Severus opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of the hospital wing. Then he turned and stared at the array of potions sitting neatly beside his bed. He recognized all of them, which was the only reason he cautiously drank them.
Then he felt at his throat. Nagini’s fangs had torn him open, he knew that. He remembered dying. He remembered looking into Potter’s eyes and passing his memories to him. He had no memories of coming here.
“You’re awake, then. Good.”
Poppy’s voice was soft and shadowed. She had been in the school for the past year and knew what he had done as Headmaster. Severus ignored the pain throbbing beneath his breastbone expertly and frowned at her. “Why am I here? What happened?”
“You-Know-Who has been defeated,” Poppy said, and some part of Severus that still had its wits howled in a celebration as dark as that of any werewolf. “Apparently, young Harry Potter, when he came back to life, went to the Shrieking Shack to retrieve your body and found that there was still some breath in it. He healed you as best as he could and then brought you back here.”
Severus stared at her. “Potter is alive?”
“Yes. You’ll have to ask him how he did it.” Poppy looked away from him again. “Now, take your potions, Headmaster Snape. I have to admit—I didn’t want to treat you at first, but Harry insisted.” She left the room before Severus could say anything in response to her words, whether that was to demand how Potter could insist she treat him or that she not call him Headmaster.
Severus leaned back in his bed and swallowed the rest of the potions slowly. Blood Replenishers, pain-killers, potions that fought against infection, and several different kinds of antivenin that he’d known Poppy had on hand but which she rarely used except for victims from a Care of Magical Creatures class. He didn’t know if she would have brought all of them out for him after seeing what he had done to the students.
Except…Potter had insisted.
How is he even here to insist? Severus wondered, and could not sleep for the thoughts that chased each other through his head.
“The Horcrux that was inside me was what took the Killing Curse instead of me.”
Severus stared steadily at Potter. He himself had insisted until Potter visited the hospital wing. Now he sat on a bed across from Severus, his gaze steady but—empty, somehow. His arms were looped around his knees. He had dirt on his elbows and hands. His hair was even more of a mess than usual. His gaze was a thousand miles distant.
And yet, he sat there and answered Severus’s questions.
“You expect me to believe that the Headmaster planned this?” Severus spoke in the most goading tone he could, but Potter only shook his head.
“I think he hoped for it. But obviously, there was no way to test it before the final confrontation between me and Voldemort.” Potter ignored his flinch, instead staring over Severus’s head again. “Then I pretended to be dead, and Narcissa Malfoy lied to him about me being alive because I told her Draco still was. After Hagrid brought me back to the castle, I ‘came back to life,’ and he couldn’t use the Elder Wand against me because I am its master.”
“That convoluted story. It’s true?”
“Yes, sir. And,” Potter hesitated for a moment, swallowing, then forged on. “It’s the reason that you’re still alive.”
“Yes. Let us talk about that. My body still had a bit of breath in it?”
“No, sir. Not really. But I took up the Elder Wand and healed my own wand, and—after that, I told Ron and Hermione I was going to put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb. But the wand started trembling in my hand after I was alone, and I felt its presence in my mind, promising to do anything I wanted if I would keep it.”
“Potter! You, of all people, ought to know better than to trust a voice in your head—”
“I know. But there was something I wanted to do. So I went back to the Shrieking Shack, and no one had disturbed your body. And—don’t ask me how I know this, it’s just something the Elder Wand communicated to me—”
Severus wanted to point out that that sentence did tell him how Potter knew it, but he kept silent as he watched the boy struggle.
“It said that because less than twenty-four hours had passed since you died, your soul was still close enough to summon back. So I did. I pulled your soul back into your body, and after that, the wand itself was able to heal your wound enough that you didn’t bleed out on the way to the hospital wing.”
“I owe you my life.” The realization made Severus feel as if volcanic tephra coated his tongue.
“No. I release you from the life-debt and any others that you feel you owe me.”
Severus jerked his head back as a black star flared into life in the air between him and Potter. Potter only watched it as if he’d expected that. Then the star vanished in a rush of imploding air, and at the same time, Severus breathed out. His shoulders felt lighter than they had in years.
“No one has the power to release a life-debt.”
Potter ignored the way his voice shook. “I do. It probably has something to do with the Elder Wand. I’ve also released Draco from the one he owes me because I saved his life when Crabbe cast a Fiendfyre spell.”
“You fool,” Severus said, and his voice was full of wonder. “Those life-debts could have been of use to you! You could have used them to make sure that the Malfoys would have to protect you in the future, or that I would have to—”
“I think you’ve done enough protecting that I never thanked you for.” Potter steadied the glasses on his nose and nodded, as if everything was resolved between them and he hadn’t just done something that might destroy Severus’s sense of himself. “Thank you, sir. Please stay in bed and keep taking the potions that Madam Pomfrey gives you. Despite the Elder Wand, it was touch and go for a while.”
And he turned and left, with Severus staring after him and wondering who he was when he wasn’t protecting Potter.
Severus stared in silence at the blank canvas in Minerva’s office—because it was her office now, and would remain that until a time that Severus did not want to think about. “That canvas will hold my portrait.”
“Yes. The spells have been enacted, and when you die, your image will show up there. I sincerely hope that’s not for many years yet, Severus.”
He must have murmured something, because Minerva went on pouring tea and talking, about details of his trial and defense in the Ministry that Severus didn’t need to listen to because he knew them. He didn’t take his gaze from the canvas often. He was remembering the short, unsigned letter that had come with an unremarkable tawny owl three days ago.
Do you want a portrait of yourself in the Headmaster’s office when you die, or not?
Severus had thought it was a joke, but he had answered sincerely, if with sarcasm, that he thought his sacrifices deserved at least that much. And even though he didn’t recognize the owl, or the handwriting, and Minerva said nothing about it…
He knew who had had it put there.
“Witness for the defense, Harry James Potter.”
Severus turned to watch Potter walk up the aisle between the thickly clustered seats of the witnesses. He didn’t wink or twinkle at Severus the way Albus would have. He gave Severus exactly the same kind of faint smile he had used when Draco and Narcissa were on trial, and then sat down in the chair that the Wizengamot had designed for witnesses.
“This is a surprise,” said a woman with a nasal voice that reminded Severus of a mooncalf’s honk. “Reliable reports said that you hated Professor Snape and thought he was a traitor.”
“At one time, I did,” Potter said with a shrug. “I’ve learned better since then.”
“And you’re prepared to testify that Professor Snape committed no crimes?”
“I’m prepared to testify that all the crimes he committed were on the orders of Professor Albus Dumbledore.”
“What proof of this do you have?”
“—with me by the portrait of Headmaster Dumbledore, who I spoke to a few days ago. May I have your permission to place them in a Pensieve?”
Severus blinked and blinked again as he watched Potter receive permission, and draw forth the memories. He added a few other strands, which he described as “Things I saw but didn’t understand at the time” and “memories from other Hogwarts students who are still in the hospital wing and couldn’t be here to testify.”
Nothing about the memories that he had received from Severus as he lay dying. Somehow, he had known that Severus did not want those shared, even if they would preserve his life or his freedom.
Severus watched as Wizengamot members lowered their heads into the Pensieve and gasped or cried or looked sick. He watched as the woman with the nasal voice became subdued and even nodded to him with a little frown on her face. He watched as they voted to acquit him and gave out some murmurs that someday there might be an Order of Merlin, although Severus highly doubted that would ever materialize.
But mostly, he watched Potter. Potter handled questions calmly and without exploding. He clarified points when he had to, and sometimes raised his eyebrows and acquired a faint sarcastic edge to his voice that suggested, better than any words, exactly what he thought of his interrogator’s intelligence. He explained Severus’s part in helping him locate Horcruxes and defeat the Dark Lord without once suggesting that Severus had known, and participated, in sending him to his death.
Or that he had been devoted to Lily.
When the questioning and the acquittal were finished, Potter stood up and gave a silent nod of support to Severus, nothing extraordinary, and then turned and walked calmly out of the room.
Severus’s eyes followed him.
Severus ducked the jinx that came his way and silently cursed all the instincts that were telling him to retaliate. Oh, he could, but he would use Dark magic. His instincts had become exaggerated since the war. He would react with fury and strength that would bleed his attackers dry. And he would go to prison, when he had barely got his wand back.
Which meant that anyone who had the wherewithal and desire could harass him in Diagon Alley, and he could do nothing about it.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The crack of brilliant light that descended on his attackers a second later was familiar to Severus. He had experienced much the same thing in the hospital wing when Potter had released him from his life-debts. He stood and watched Potter walking towards them, his body radiating that same light.
They can never accuse him of Darkness, Severus thought, then remembered the attacks the Daily Prophet had printed during Potter’s fifth year. But there were always idiots in the world.
“What did you think you were doing?” Potter folded his arms and stared at the attackers again. He had turned nineteen since Severus had last seen him in person, and the frequent photographs didn’t do him justice. Not the way he had managed to tame his hair by growing it out, or the breadth of his shoulders.
“He—he was a Death Eater,” said the leader of the attackers, a tall girl in Hufflepuff robes. She must be here to shop for her school things. She blinked at Potter.
“Would you ever think of attacking me?”
“Of course not, sir!”
“What about my friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger?”
“Of course not! They’re war heroes!”
“And so is he.”
Severus moved a little to the side. He had no desire to remind his attackers of his presence, but he did want to see if Potter had managed to raise the disappointed glare to an art form.
He had. Severus thought his even better than Albus’s.
“I—but—” The Hufflepuff girl looked devastated, and so did the others behind her. Young enough to be students, too, Severus thought, although they weren’t wearing House colors. He breathed in and out. His instincts would have made even more of a mess of things than usual if he had retaliated.
“Things aren’t always black and white,” Potter said sternly. “Or Dark and Light. Go home and think about it. You’re, what, sixteen? I thought the same stupid shit when I was sixteen. On the other hand, I was in the middle of a war. You ought to keep up with the news enough now that the war’s done to at least know who was acquitted!”
The children scurried off, one of them openly weeping. Potter watched them go, then sighed and turned to Severus. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Only one hex landed,” Severus said, without knowing why he said it, and held out his arm. There was a rapidly growing boil on the skin. He could have healed it well enough by himself, but casting all but a certain small repertoire of spells might still bring the Aurors down on him. Might.
Potter reached out and gently closed his hand around Severus’s forearm. There was a motion like curtains swaying in the air, and Severus thought he smelled jasmine. Then Potter drew his hand back.
Severus stared down at his completely clear skin.
“Sorry I didn’t get here before they hurt you,” Potter said. “Where are you headed, sir?”
“To buy some ingredients to grind for my potions,” Severus said, and he turned and began to walk down Diagon Alley. Potter fell into easy step beside him, and began to talk about his difficulty crushing scorpion tails.
The conversation lasted all of Severus’s trip to the apothecary, his selection of ingredients, and his journey back to the Apparition point. He criticized Potter’s technique, the whole idea of him becoming an Auror, the fact that he hadn’t gone back to Hogwarts to earn his Potions NEWT, and the inferior quality of the Ministry’s equipment. Potter just listened with a smile, and sometimes asked questions.
When they separated and Severus returned home, he realized that Potter had, without saying a word, made sure that he was protected during the rest of his journey. Rather like he had seen off Severus’s attackers without a wand.
All that evening, as he ground the fresh pegasus hooves, Severus listened. The small hand-mill he used was loud, with a noise like someone walking over crunching river pebbles. And still it seemed too silent in his house.
“Excuse me, sir, I didn’t see you there,” Potter said, and danced deftly around Severus as he juggled his own packages. The Potter Severus remembered would have dropped at least one of them to the ground. This one caught them all and nodded to Severus. “I’ll see you later.”
Severus turned to partially block the entrance of the Leaky Cauldron again, which was the thing that had made Potter stumble into him in the first place. “And now you’re too good to say hello to your old professor?”
“No, of course not, sir,” Potter said, a curious frown on his face. “I only thought that you probably didn’t want to be troubled with me.”
“I do not dislike you, Potter.”
“Now,” Potter muttered under his breath, but Severus heard it. He stifled his smile, because that would tell Potter exactly how purposeful this encounter was, and nodded into the Leaky Cauldron.
“Come and have a drink with me.”
Potter’s eyebrows looked as if they might wing off the top of his head, but he nodded. “All right, sir. I do have to be back at the Ministry in an hour.”
An hour should be more than enough time, Severus thought as he led Potter to one of the sturdier tables and watched him pile his packages around his chair with neat sweeps of his wand. Enough time for Severus to figure out what it was that he liked about Potter’s company and determine if he wanted more of it in the future.
They both ordered butterbeer, and for a moment, Severus thought they would sit there in silence. Fortunately, he noticed a particular shape among Potter’s packets. “You are buying a new cauldron?”
“Yes.” Potter flushed a little. “I managed to melt the old one.”
“Tell me, Potter, was Longbottom in the room?”
Potter laughed a little, a sound that Severus decided, carefully, he could stand with hearing more of. “No. I added the powdered lacewings to the cauldron when there was still too much unmelted electrum in the bottom.”
Severus winced at the thought of the resulting mess, but his mind was delicately sorting through ingredients, and he ended by staring at Potter. “Only one potion uses powdered lacewings and electrum.”
“Really? I wouldn’t know. I’m not the expert here, sir.”
“What were you doing brewing Wolfsbane?”
“Greyback created a lot of werewolves on purpose before we caught him. Some of them are Muggles without Galleons. Some of them are wizards living by themselves who don’t have any secure places to spend their transformations. I’m going to become good at brewing it so I can give it to at least a few people free each full moon.”
“The electrum by itself is an expensive ingredient.” And that was not the only costly one that particular potion required.
Potter’s eyes glittered, and he tilted his head. “Good thing I’m rich, then.”
Severus swallowed another gulp of butterbeer, and said nothing. He supposed it shouldn’t have surprised him. After all, Potter had been obscenely good friends with Lupin, and this was the sort of saving-people thing he would do.
But it gave him an opportunity to ask about brewing, which turned into a conversation about Potter’s Auror work. Potter spoke simply but with more of a sarcastic bent than Severus remembered. Or perhaps his appreciation for it had been obscured when he had to take points and give detentions based on it.
When it was directed at me.
Severus did ask a question when Potter checked his watch, hissed a quiet curse, and got up to leave. “Why have you been so careful with me since the war?”
“I have no idea what you mean, sir.”
And by his wide, blinking eyes, he honestly didn’t. Severus sighed a little. “Consistently respectful. Going out of your way to treat me like—as if I did not do half the things I did. Why do that?”
“Because you sacrificed a lot for the war, sir. And that means that you deserve at least the consideration I give other people who did that. Sorry, sir, but I really am going to be late.” Potter gave him an apologetic smile and ran out the door, trailing packages behind him like a comet’s tail.
Severus stared after him. So Potter was treating him not exactly like an ordinary person, but like—a friend.
He pondered what that meant for the rest of the day.
“Er, thank you for inviting me, sir.”
Severus concealed a smirk as he watched Potter step into the kitchen, shaking the snow off his cloak. He looked around politely, but darted a confused glance at Severus when he thought his back was turned. He obviously didn’t know why he’d been invited.
For that matter, Severus himself had invited him based on tentative emotion and gut instinct. All those things that he had once sworn himself never to live by, since they had not served him well in keeping Lily’s friendship.
But the thought of Lily did not fill him with as much of a pang as it once had. Instead, he held up the full kettle to Potter and asked, “Tea?”
Potter smiled at him and nodded, then spelled the remaining snow away from the cloak and did the same with his boots. Severus tilted his head. That spell was not difficult, but not many wizards learned it, either, simply assuming the snow and water would fade from sight.
“Hermione hates having house-elves,” Potter explained when he saw him looking. “We’ve all become pretty adept at household charms.” He accepted a cup of tea and cradled it between his hands, sitting down at the small table Severus had stationed between the kitchen window and the hearth when he had bought this flat.
“Who is ‘we’?”
“Hmmm?” Potter turned half-dreaming eyes on him, and Severus felt a smug jolt in his stomach. I am one of those he trusts himself to relax around. “Oh, Ron and Hermione and Ginny and Luna and Neville and Dean and Dennis and Parvati and—a group of us that meet regularly at Ron and Hermione’s house. We all survived the Battle of Hogwarts. It’s mostly Gryffindors, except for Luna, but Draco does join us sometimes.”
Severus paused in the middle of adding the scones to the tray, although the spells he had prepared meant ingredients kept whisking over regardless. He irritably sent the over-eager saltcellar back to its place on the shelves. “Draco has mentioned nothing to me about this.”
Potter shrugged. “I think he’s a bit embarrassed. Some of his Slytherin friends still tease him when he spends time with anyone other than them.”
“I see.” Severus brought the scones to the table. Potter waited for him to take what he wanted before he reached for anything. Then he went back to watching the snow as he drank and ate, while Severus watched him. Has he learned manners, or did always have some that I simply never saw?
Potter sipped the last of his tea and glanced at Severus. “Was there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about, sir?”
“Two things,” Severus said, and reminded himself that this new version of Potter would not embarrass Severus like the schoolboy version would have.
“First, I enjoy the company of someone who—does not treat me as if I had an incurable plague.”
“I’m hoping that stops soon.” Potter’s eyes had a fine spark when he was angry, burning with a righteous fire. “There are new laws going up in front of the Wizengamot soon, to reverse some of the decisions they made right after the war. For one thing, shopkeepers don’t have the right to attack someone they just think has a Dark Mark on their arm. If someone gets violent, that’s one thing, but they can’t hex you or Draco or Narcissa Malfoy if you just go in and buy things quietly and leave.”
“Narcissa does not have a Dark Mark.”
“But they think she does, hence the retaliation.”
“How long do you intend to fight?” Severus asked, since he was truly curious. “Is there some series of wrongs that you would content yourself with righting?”
“I’ll keep fighting as long as I can and the world needs me.”
No dimming that fire. Severus swallowed as he felt the reaction move through his body, and he knew his voice was hoarse as he spoke again. “The second thing is that, while I do appreciate your respect, I would prefer it if you called me something other than sir.”
“But you’re not a professor anymore. Would you prefer Mr. Snape? Or do independent Potions brewers have a title?”
“I would prefer Severus.”
Potter opened his mouth in what looked like honest surprise, and then ended up closing it again. “Of course,” he said, and his voice was very gentle. “Severus. You must miss the way that my mother used to call you that.”
“I do,” Severus said, and continued on before all his old self could strangle the honesty. “But I am not looking to hear the echo of your mother’s voice in yours, Mr. Potter. I am looking only to hear someone who regards me as a friend speak to me that way.”
Potter considered him for a long moment, his mouth slowly tilting up at the corners. “Then you must call me Harry.”
“Severus?” Harry’s voice sounded louder than Severus had realized it would as he limped towards the door. Yes, that was definitely limping, Severus thought, and pinched his lips together. “Sorry, I would have taken down the wards if I knew that you were coming over.”
“You would have known I was coming if you had sent me a Patronus messenger when your accident happened,” Severus hissed, and threw his shoulder against the door the moment he heard the locking charms disengage. He was carefully to have a free arm ready to wrap around Harry’s waist as he stumbled. “Instead, it was left to Miss Granger to tell me.”
Harry straightened up and shot him a baffled glance. “Well, I mean, it’s a minor wound. I don’t know why Hermione told you.”
“Because she suspects, as I do, that this was no accident.” Severus eyed the long gash that ran up Harry’s left leg. It was true chance that had made it spare any major muscles.
But chance only. Severus herded Harry into a chair and drew out the painkilling potions and the one that would knit the skin closed. He had prepared them at once when Granger’s Patronus found him and told him about the “accident.” “And no minor wound.”
“I already took the painkillers.”
“That you are limping proves they did not work.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but swallowed the potions that Severus held out to him. Severus, meanwhile, moved his wand in the pattern that the wound suggested, and nodded. Rage was quiet in him. He had learned to control and channel it to where it would do some good since the war.
He leaned back and looked up at Harry, who winced. “What?”
Severus handed him the potion that would knit the wound shut, and said mildly, “This is the pattern for the Muscle-Ripping Curse. No Auror instructor should have been using that in a class with trainees. And you will still claim this was an accident?”
“Lie to yourself if you will. But not to me.”
Harry fell silent at the force in his voice, blinked, and pushed his glasses up his nose. Then he swallowed the last of the potions, and sighed. “Come into the drawing room with me, and I’ll tell you how it happened.” He limped for the first few steps when he stood up from the chair, but it faded thereafter. Severus eyed his leg complacently as he followed Harry into the drawing room.
And if his eyes lingered on the way that Harry’s muscles moved under his skin more than they should, who would tell?
Harry’s small house was a cheerful place crowded with photographs of his friends, godson, Order of the Phoenix members, and, presumably, young people from his Auror training class. Severus narrowed his eyes at a photograph of himself on the mantel, caught in brewing. He did not know that Harry had that.
Harry noted his gaze, but shrugged unrepentantly as he sat down on one of the overstuffed scarlet couches he favored. Severus took the one chair in a dark green. He assumed it was a concession to Draco’s sensibilities.
“Why tell others it was an accident?” Severus persisted.
Harry sighed. “Because Auror Oron really, really does not like me. He was trying to hurt me. I know that. But if I make a claim like that, it’s going to look like I’m asking for favors and can’t take a bit of pain—”
“You could have been killed or crippled, and that is what you care about?”
“But I wasn’t—Severus? Please listen to me.”
Reluctantly, Severus snapped his mouth shut, and watched Harry lean forwards, his eyes bright.
“Auror Oron is one of the few people right now who’s fighting to free house-elves,” Harry said softly, “because a house-elf helped him during the war when she didn’t have to, and since then he’s kind of woken up to the way that they’re treated is wrong. Sure, I could get him sacked if I had the right sort of evidence. But then I’m removing someone who could be a powerful ally for Hermione.”
Severus stared at him. “You risk yourself for the sake of politics?”
“I have to. I owe it to Dobby.”
By now, Severus knew the story of that elf and how he had died. It did not make him comfortable to recall. He clenched his fists.
“Just leave it alone. Please.”
“If he strikes you again, I will not.”
Harry paused, then nodded. “I don’t think he’ll be stupid enough to do it again. But fine, yes, if he is, I promise to let you at him,” he added hastily, since he must have seen the sort of glow in Severus’s eyes that meant it was dangerous to push him.
The moment passed, and Severus found himself sitting and gazing at Harry. Harry took off his glasses and cleaned them, then put them back on and squinted at Severus.
“Are you all right?”
“Relieved that you are,” Severus admitted in a rough voice that made him wince a little. He had not meant to speak like that.
Harry blinked, then smiled. “Well. Thanks.”
Chapter 2: Part Two
Severus still could not clearly recall how he had come to be in this small, dark place—a cellar, he thought, but his thoughts scattered and reformed every time he tried to concentrate. He began to shiver, and couldn’t stop.
They had given him a potion. He remembered that. But he couldn’t recall faces, or anything other than being seized, and Apparated, and fed a potion, and then thrust into darkness. He didn’t know where he was or who had kidnapped him. He didn’t know if anyone else suspected where he was. He didn’t know if the ones who had captured him would ever return.
He felt a high, thin whimper begin to work its way out of his throat. He didn’t think he could stop it.
There was a rending crash from above. Severus found himself crouching before he thought about it. If the roof was falling in, then he had no other defense. They had taken his wand. He remembered that, too.
But instead, there was a chorus of screams, and then the door of the cellar burst open. Severus huddled, and felt fear creeping through his belly. The potion they had fed him, it must enhance emotions and physical reactions, he thought, and then his thoughts scattered again.
Somehow, the voice was the right combination of calm and strength that he could cling to it. Severus turned his head, and focused on green eyes. He hissed a little in relief and extended his hand. Harry caught and held it.
“I’m getting you out of here,” he said. “All of the people who took you are bound. I have your wand, too. I’ll bring you to safety.” He draped his arms around Severus and stood. Severus closed his eyes.
“How are you lifting me?” he managed to concentrate enough to ask.
“I’ve Lightened you. Now hang on.”
And Harry Apparated, ripping straight through spells so strong that Severus felt them buck in protest against his body. He sighed and bowed his head further. It was good to have skin to rest his nose against, good to know that for the next little while, at least, he need do nothing.
“All of the people who took you are awaiting trial in Ministry holding cells.”
Harry’s voice was tight and low with anger. At least Severus was past the stage in which he might have thought he’d caused that anger. He nodded and swallowed the bowl of beef broth the Healers had brought him. It was irritating, to be catered to like an invalid, but better than the—
He banished the memory of the darkness. “Why did they take such a risk in the first place? Seizing me in the middle of Diagon Alley.” His voice honked a little. He grimaced and swallowed more broth.
“Because they thought that you were enchanting me somehow. You had me under the Imperius or something. They were going to make you tell them how you did it, so they could control me in the future.”
“How did you find me? Where was I?” Severus added. It wasn’t as though he’d had any chance to look around at anything but a dark cellar. He studied Harry as Harry stretched out in the chair next to his bed before answering.
Harry’s eyes turned to him, glowing so vividly that Severus shivered. Harry appeared too alive for the rooms of St. Mungo’s. Green and black and scarlet, the color of his Auror robes, he shimmered. Severus partially blamed the amount of time he’d spent in the dark; his eyes hadn’t yet fully adjusted to the light.
But he said nothing about that, because then the Healers would try to treat him for eye problems and keep him even longer than he had been already.
“They neglected to block the kinds of tracking spells that respond to the link between you and your possessions,” Harry said, and bared his teeth. “All I had to do was take a chip from that pewter cauldron you use all the time and enchant it to follow you. And you were in a house that used to belong to the Rookwood family. One of them was a former Death Eater.”
Severus nodded slowly. But although his body still ached, there was nothing wrong with his mind. “I haven’t used that pewter cauldron in a month. I’m amazed the sympathetic magic link was strong enough for you to follow.”
“Harry. Trust me. You may say anything you want to me, and you know it.” Severus surprised himself a little by how low and commanding his voice was.
Harry sighed and raked a hand through his hair. “You lost a little blood on the stones of Diagon Alley from the curse they used to bind you.”
“And you tracked me by my blood.” Severus held the bowl of broth a little tighter. “I did not know you were versed in such magic.”
“I—don’t tell the Ministry, please, Severus. It’s illegal. And there are some people who would take any chance they could catch at to punish me.”
“I will not. That still does not explain how you know it well enough to use it to find me. The incantations are precise and vary based on the amount of blood and what you intend to do with it.”
“The blood arts just come to me so naturally. So does necromancy,” Harry said, all but whispering now. He stared down at his hands. “I think it has something to do with these fucking Deathly Hallows. I never tried that kind of magic before the war or during it. Now it’s honestly hard to Summon an object from another room instead of conjuring a spirit to do it for me.”
Severus choked, and then went carefully back to sipping his broth. He watched Harry and saw the moment when he swung his head a little to check on the open door of Severus’s room.
“No one is there. I would have alerted you if someone could have heard.” Severus paused. He was not sure how necessary the promise was, but he gave it. “And I will not talk about this to anyone else.”
Harry looked at him quickly, his lips lifting in a faint smile. “Oh, I know, Severus.”
The words were plain and calm, a fact. Severus kept his eyes fastened on Harry, until the brightness seemed to become too much again, and he closed them. But then he was back in the darkness of the cellar, the darkness that he knew now was filled with spells to make him despair and panic so that he would not try to break free, and he began to shiver.
“I’m here.” Harry’s voice was as steady as it had been a moment before. Severus felt him take the bowl and set it aside. Then he took Severus’s hands and lifted them so that his fingers rested on Harry’s closed eyelids.
“What?” Severus managed to croak.
“If you need to touch something without looking at it, I’m here. You’re alive.”
Severus hesitantly let his fingers trail across Harry’s cheekbones and down to his lips, lingering there for a moment. He explored his tangles of wild hair and the stubble that clung to the underside of his chin. Harry must be kneeling beside the bed.
“You couldn’t even shave before you came in to see me?” Severus muttered, because he felt the moment had to be pierced by sarcasm, or it would become too much for him.
“So sorry. I’ve been here for thirty-six hours, counting the time I sat by your bed while you were asleep and the paperwork I was filling out so that the—the right things would happen.”
Severus let his fingers stay on Harry’s jawline for a second, and then released him and opened his eyes at the same moment. “The right things?”
“There were some Healers who were reluctant to treat you.” Harry gave him a bright smile that had cutting edges. “I told them that was all right, they didn’t have to treat you, but I was remaining here until they found someone who would. And there were some who wanted to know how you were going to pay.”
“How did I?” Severus asked quietly.
“I don’t want to owe—”
“You remember how I released you from any debts that you felt you owed me? That’s still in effect.”
After a moment, Severus nodded. He knew he wouldn’t win this battle, and he didn’t particularly want to have it. He wanted to lie in his bed and look at Harry and know that he had come for Severus through everything, using Dark Arts he didn’t want to use, and staying here and fighting for him when Severus had been unable to fight for himself.
Harry stood up and brought the bowl of beef broth back. Then he asked quietly, “Do you want something else to eat?”
“This is enough, for now.”
Harry caught his eyes and gave him a crooked smile. Then he took his place in the chair and spoke in a soothing tone of internal Auror political squabbles that had nothing to do with former Death Eaters or Dark Arts until Severus went to sleep.
“I just want to know what you’re doing with him, Harry.”
“Being his friend.”
Severus paused. He knew he was not supposed to hear this conversation. It was, in fact, half an hour before he’d been scheduled to arrive at Harry’s house, but he’d finished the potion he’d been brewing early, and he was hungry and restless, the way he often was these days when he spent too much time alone. He’d Flooed in to Harry’s drawing room, but apparently neither participant in the quiet, intense argument had noticed.
Severus moved a little to the left, and could see Ginny Weasley standing with her back to him. No mistaking that fall of red-orange hair. She pushed it back with one hand and sighed. Then she said, “You said that at some point we might get back together.”
Harry stood facing her, arms folded, at such an angle that he couldn’t look into the drawing room and see Severus. His face was set in those faint lines that Severus had reason to know were no less stubborn for their faintness. “I said that because I believed it at the time. But it’s been three years and I think you’re probably right, and we’re not.”
“I love you, Harry.”
Harry closed his eyes and breathed in, hard, which allowed Severus to mitigate the flash of contempt he felt. “I know, Ginny. And I know I asked for time to think. But—I don’t think I want to get back together.”
Part of Severus relaxed. That wasn’t the voice of a woman devastated by the end of a love affair. It was the voice of a child who hadn’t yet let go of a false hope, or a favorite toy. He still listened eagerly for Harry’s answer.
“Because I’m not in love with you.” Harry’s brilliant green eyes were as forthright as Lily’s had ever been, and locked on Weasley with a gentleness that Severus burned to appreciate, if Weasley would not. “That’s what it comes down to. You need to be with someone who loves you as much as you love them.”
“Because you’re gay?”
“That’s part of it, but not all of it.”
Weasley nodded, several times. Her shoulders were hunched. Harry seemed to know what she needed, the way he had with Severus when he was just recovering from the darkness of being kidnapped, and didn't touch her. He watched her with bright compassion, but no longing.
Part of Severus relaxed even more. He didn’t know how he would have dealt with it if one of the emotions had been longing.
“All right, Harry,” Weasley finally whispered, sounding as if she was on the verge of fainting. “I—wish it had worked out.”
“I know. So do I, sometimes.” Now Harry did go up to Weasley, put his arms around her, and kiss her on the top of her head. “And I hope, if you’re able to be friends with me, that you’ll tell me.”
“How could I reject such a perfect gentleman as a friend?” Weasley asked, quietly enough that Severus didn’t know how much of it was sarcasm. She started to pull away from Harry, and Severus cast a hasty Disillusionment Charm on himself. Weasley was so caught up in her emotions that she might not notice him even if she did storm past him on the way to the Floo, but he didn’t want to risk it.
She stormed past. Harry watched her go with sadness on his face. When she had vanished into the flames, he shifted a little.
His eyes locked straight on Severus. “So, you heard most of it, right?” he asked.
He’s an Auror, Severus, of course he would hear it when his Floo activated. Severus dropped the Disillusionment Charm and moved further into the kitchen. “I was truly standing there for only a few minutes.”
Harry sighed. “Well. Sorry you had to witness that. It’s not a pleasant scene for anyone.”
“It is never pleasant to see a friend in distress,” Severus agreed. If Harry assumed from that that he was talking about Weasley, he was welcome to. He didn’t need to elaborate, just as Harry didn’t need to ask him to keep that scene to himself.
“Well,” Harry repeated, and then shook himself firmly. “Anyway, I had chicken on the menu, but it’s going to take me longer to cook it than I thought. I hadn’t started it when Ginny came over. Do you want to wait while I cook it? Or would you rather go out to some restaurant somewhere?”
“If we go out, you know what the public will think.”
“I don’t care what they think.”
And that was true. Real. Not simply an impetuous or dismissive answer. Harry even sounded confused, as if he wondered why in the world Severus would assume that would be a concern for him.
Severus half-smiled at him. He was a better man than he had been. More analytical. “Then let us go to the Scarlet Cloak. I’ve heard reports of their pasta bolognaise for some time, but I’ve never eaten there.”
“Because it’s as expensive as hell,” Harry muttered, but he was smiling fully. “Sure, just let me change my robes.”
Severus’s eyes followed Harry as he walked into his bedroom. He was a better man than he had been, but not so good that he would not let Harry pay for the meal.
And not so good that he did not hope word of this would get back to Weasley sooner rather than later.
Severus relished in the quietly smug look on Harry’s face for a long moment before he asked, “What happened today?”
“I bested Auror Oron in a duel,” Harry said happily, and wandered over to poke at the mushrooms that Severus had simmering in a pan. “Can I help with this?”
“Sometimes, there is nothing you can help with,” Severus told him sternly, and slapped his fingers with a ladle when he persisted. “In Potions or cooking. And that is the Auror who cursed you?”
“Yes. The one who doesn’t like me? Well, now I’ve beaten him, and I’ll be moved to a different class because there’s nothing much he can teach me.” Harry chortled and stretched. Severus followed the motion with his eyes, making no corresponding motion to look away. It wasn’t something he and Harry spoke about, but it was there. “And he can’t say that I cheated, and I haven’t alienated him from the house-elf cause, either.”
“Congratulations, Harry.” Severus gave one more expert stir to the beans and stepped away with a nod, then began to float various ingredients towards him. Harry watched and licked his lips as the onion, tomatoes, and chili peppers went past. Severus tried not to look too closely at his lips. “Are you going to talk to Aurors above you, at last, if his grudge continues?”
“Oh, I might if he does something else, but right now, I’m not sure what he would do.”
“Perhaps curse you again. It is never wise to leave enemies alive behind you.”
“We’re not in a war anymore, Severus,” Harry said tolerantly, and stretched out so that his back rested against the counter and his legs were splayed in front of him. “Seriously, can I help with something?”
Severus snorted as he combined the parched corn, mushrooms, and other ingredients. “Now it only needs to simmer for an hour, bar the spices I’ll be adding to it. And you can do something for me.” When Harry cocked his head and an eyebrow, Severus added, “Keep those lovely legs of yours from being marred with another curse.”
“Lovely, are they?”
Severus looked up and nodded. “Yes, they are.” Then he turned back to preparing their dinner.
Harry spoke little in the next hour, which was how long it took until all the vegetables and the bread Severus had made were ready. But he kept looking, slow speaking glances of the kind he’d never given before, ones that brushed over Severus’s hands and face and legs and arse.
Severus turned the conversation to bees, which he’d been keeping lately for the taste of their honey in both his meals and his potions, and Harry relaxed and went along with him. But his eyes still spoke more than his mouth.
It was there between them now, acknowledged. Severus could not wait to see what would come of it.
Severus blinked in shock at Harry as he opened the door. His cloak was soaked with both rain and snow, and he didn’t appear to be holding a gift, for all that it was the right day. “I do not recall telling you the date,” he said, stupidly.
Harry smiled at him. “I know. I saw it when I was reading up on all your records for the trial. Can I come in?”
“Of course,” Severus said, a little dazed to think that Harry should remember it four years later, and moved aside. Harry stepped into the entrance hall and dried his cloak with a flick of his wand. “And—you are here to give me a present? To invite me to birthday dinner?”
“All of those,” Harry said, and laid the cloak aside on the old spindly chair that Severus kept in the entrance hall for that purpose, and cupped his hands beneath Severus’s jaw, smiling at him.
Severus went dry-mouthed. He knew what was going to happen, but he stood there and held Harry’s eyes as if he did not. Harry leaned in, slowly, still smiling, and then kissed him.
One of Severus’s hands stroked the air like the beat of a dislocated wing. The other found its way to Harry’s shoulder and held on firmly. Harry deepened the kiss, pressing him at last back into the wall. Then Severus’s flailing hand found purchase as well, this time on Harry’s back near his spine.
“Yes,” Harry sighed, arching into the touch, but not removing his mouth from Severus’s. “God. I wanted this.” And he dived back into the kiss, making it clear that he still wanted it. And he kissed as if he always would.
Severus at last shed his surprise and managed to give as good as he got, investigating the hot taste in the corners of Harry’s mouth and chasing his tongue when it retreated from his. He felt Harry’s skin heating under his hands, and that was as great a wonder as the fact that he was here at all. He kissed, and kissed, and kissed, and still it seemed that he had not come to the end of the well of passion that Harry wanted him to drown in.
“God,” Harry sighed again, and broke away at last, drinking air in heaving gulps. Severus watched his chest rising and falling, eyes stuck on the small patch of bare skin visible through Harry’s carelessly open buttons. “Why did I wait so long to do this?”
“I do not know.” Severus cleared his throat to get rid of the hoarseness in it. “So. That is, perhaps, a birthday gift. The dinner?”
Harry grinned at him. “You don’t need to give me a chance to back out. I know this is what I want.” And he reached up and began to unfasten the buttons that so intrigued Severus, revealing the top of a messy scar that must be where the locket Horcrux had burned him.
“Ou-out? I was not thinking that.” Severus regained control of his stutter. It was ridiculous to sound like a schoolboy. “I want to know what—what you meant by the birthday dinner.”
“I’m hurt,” Harry said, tilting his head downwards and giving him a ridiculous look from beneath his eyelashes—ridiculous because his eyes burned too brilliant a green to give off an innocent impression. “You want another dinner? I’m not enough of a feast?”
Somehow, Severus lost his good sense. He reached out, clasped Harry’s shoulders, and pulled him in to suck at his neck. Harry’s head promptly lolled sideways, and he made soft, obscene noises there were at least as good as the noises he’d made when Severus had chased his tongue around his mouth. At least as good, Severus thought, lifting his head and licking a long stripe up the side of Harry’s throat.
But he would need more experimentation to judge their relative levels.
“Come with me,” he murmured, and curled his fingers strongly into Harry’s waistband, pulling him along. Harry turned a little and shrugged, and his shirt fell off him. Severus froze, staring at some more of the scars on his chest, how they flexed in and out as Harry breathed.
“I do believe I would be more comfortable flat on my back if we were in a bed,” Harry said consideringly.
That got Severus to pay attention and move them in the direction of the bedroom once more.
“How long have you wanted this?” Severus whispered against Harry’s collarbone before he could consider the consequences. He knew asking a question like that was doomed to disappointment for the most part.
But Harry arched up underneath him and wriggled Severus’s robes off, answering between bites and licks to his chest. “Since last year. That was—when I realized that we were—really friends and I didn’t—have to worry about—you laughing at me or—breaking the friendship up—over it.”
Severus sighed and let himself fall back. Harry finished undressing him the rest of the way, eyes gleaming at him, and then stood up to remove his own shoes, socks, trousers, and pants. “Why didn’t you act on it then?” Severus whispered.
“I didn’t see any sign of attraction back.” Harry sounded painfully honest, but he had his back turned as he nudged his clothes out of the way, so Severus couldn’t see his face. “It wasn’t until recently that I did, and then I decided to plan a surprise for your birthday.”
“And if I had not accepted?”
“It would have been all right.” Harry turned around and showed him a shining face. “But now everything is doubly all right.” And he flung himself into the bed and began to kiss Severus again.
As he lifted his hands to cradle Harry’s face and then lowered them to run over the various scars on his belly and chest and abdomen, Severus had to admit he agreed.
Eventually, he did hold Harry away, breaking yet another enthusiastic kiss, so he could get a good look at him. Harry practically gleamed, toned and muscled as befit an Auror, and his cock was pale red and curved. Severus licked his lips as he looked at it. Harry grinned back at him.
“Whatever you want. After all, it’s your birthday.”
Severus did not bother answering. It was his birthday, yes, but the first of many more days to come, if he had any say in it. He lay back with his legs spread and lifted his eyebrows. Harry immediately rolled fluidly off the bed and as fluidly back on, locking his mouth so rapidly around Severus’s cock that he shouted.
And then immediately wondered and felt jealous, because one didn’t become this good at sucking men off without a lot of practice.
But the thoughts dissolved into a warm, whirling depth as Harry drew him in with a long, delicious swallow, and then played his tongue around Severus until the tickling pressure was likely to drive him mad. After that, Severus found himself writhing and letting out soft noises as Harry used the flat of his tongue, the tip of his tongue, his hands on Severus’s balls, and even the insides of his cheeks to make the madness a reality instead of a likelihood.
Severus did try to hold back when he felt himself swelling in Harry’s mouth, because he wanted to fuck Harry even more than he wanted to come down his throat. But Harry held him and tapped at his arse with one finger, and Severus emptied himself with a cry that was more like a bellow than anything he’d uttered in years.
Harry sat back up, licking his lips and looking perfectly pleased with himself. Severus gave him as much of a dark look as he could when most of his body was limp with satisfaction. “I hope you know that I won’t be able to fuck you until tomorrow.”
“Actually, that’s not true,” Harry said brightly, and flicked his wandless hand, Summoning over a vial of something thick and dark green from what must be his cloak. “This is the other gift. Happy birthday!”
Severus knew what it was the moment he uncapped the vial and sniffed at it—illegal in Britain and highly tempting to brew anyway. He would have done it more often if the ingredients weren’t so restricted. “Harry. Where did you get this?”
“You went down there—”
“So we could do a bunch of things today, yes.”
Severus tried to glare. Harry only laughed at him and then tilted his head. “You’re not allergic to anything in the potion, are you?”
“I am not. Perhaps I only did not want my lover to be arrested for buying a Priapus Potion.”
Harry’s face flamed up like a candle, and he took a deep breath. Severus watched his cock drip for a moment. “Well,” he said finally, voice shaking a little. “Anyway. This way, you get to do everything you want. I was careful. I know that no one saw me buying it.”
“That you know of,” Severus said, but he let a hand snake out to cup Harry’s arse as he swallowed the potion.
The effect was immediate, burning away his languor as if it were fuel and restoring him to full hardness so fast that he hissed. Harry immediately climbed up to straddle him, spreading his legs wide and tilting his head back.
“The preparations,” Severus began.
“Oh, I already did them before I came here,” Harry said carelessly, and before the image had time to stun Severus, he was sinking down onto Severus’s cock with a long noise that resembled a moan the way the moon resembled the sun.
Severus’s senses turned into a cascade of information. Warmth, tightness, closeness, Harry smiling at him, the small motions Harry made as he rocked backwards, the nails biting into his shoulders, yet more moans—
Somehow, Severus regained enough control not to come right away. He bit at Harry’s shoulder, and Harry responded with another noise of delight. Then he rearranged them, urging Harry onto his back and lifting his legs up around Severus’s ears. Harry watched him with a smile that never flickered.
“It is a good thing that—you are so young and flexible,” Severus said, and his words slipped out into a grunt as Harry clenched around him.
“It is,” Harry said, and let the last word trail off into a sound that would have struck Severus as a yawn if he didn’t know better. Then he began to fuck himself helpfully back on Severus’s cock until Severus got the message and moved in turn.
All the time he sank into that brilliant heat and grip, Harry was smiling up at him, digging his fingers into Severus’s arms, urging him along with breathless words that kept changing into grunts of his own effort. And Severus was losing himself, losing control of his mouth to gasps and the words he wanted to speak to more gasps.
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said at one point, rocking back and forth to meet Severus’s thrusts again. “Lose it in me.”
Why that should make so much sense, Severus didn’t know, but he pushed into Harry at the words and came. He shuddered, head bowed, his grasp on Harry tightening to the point that he knew it must hurt. Harry made no sounds of pain, only shuddered in pleasure as he clenched down, and then abruptly found his own release. Severus blinked as some of it splashed onto his chin.
His head swam, and it really was too much effort to keep balanced like this. He eased himself to the side so that he wouldn’t fall on Harry, but that was as much consideration as he was capable of. He heard someone sucking in long, greedy pants of air, and was astonished to realize it was himself.
“So,” Harry said, some time later, when he lay with his head on Severus’s chest and had cleaned each of them up with a few easy charms, “worth it?”
Severus turned his head and kissed Harry’s throat, the easiest part of him to reach from here. Harry smiled –Severus could feel the way his cheek flexed—and let his hand rise to trace lazily down the middle of Severus’s chest.
“Are you sure that you want to be bound to me?” Severus asked, when some more time had drifted past. “I am a possessive man. I am not certain I deserve you, but I do not intend to let you go.”
“Who talks about deserving and that sort of shit anymore?” Harry asked, with a yawn, as he turned and nestled under Severus’s jaw. “Only people still obsessed with the war and keeping track of debts, that’s what. Let’s keep track of how much pleasure we’ve given each other, instead. I like that better.”
So did Severus. He wrapped his arms around Harry and tried to memorize how his shoulders curved, how his spine moved with his breathing, and how close he nestled, in case—
But no. Harry would not disappear with the morning. Severus ought to know, having seen the dedication Harry brought to everything from brewing the Wolfsbane Potion (he had succeeded at last) to freeing Severus from danger and defending him from disrespect.
This will endure.
Severus lowered his head with a noise that might have been a purr if someone had dared to call it that, and he did lose himself in Harry.
This was a time for joy now, not regret.