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Growing Old With You

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Immediately after Hogwarts, Tom had spent a couple of years working the counter of Borgin and Burkes. Intended mostly as a way to get back a priceless family heirloom, it had also served as a helpful length of time away from the purist society he'd fallen into, eventually leading him to the conclusion that he couldn't be an effective dark lord if he continued to look seventeen.

While he'd worked at Borgin and Burkes, he'd struggled a bit with money, as one did when one's family wasn't wealthy, and that had led him to discovering a couple of cheaper eateries in the alleys. Most of them had been bought out by wealthier businesses in the intervening decades, but one remained: A slightly rundown Chinese shop that specialised in dumplings filled with meats or beans. It had seen some refurbishing magic – likely meant as either an attempt to compete with the much fancier restaurants down New Trishaan Alley (named for the lavish Indian restaurant that had paid for the team of casters that expanded off the main thoroughfare), which it sat across from the mouth of, or else in response to a threat that they class up or move shop – and the owners had changed. But the food, when Tom had disguised himself and visited, had seemed a bit more delicious than his memory suggested, and the staff were far more friendly than he was used to, after decades of only eating at the richer restaurants of New Trishaan.

It was to that Chinese restaurant that he took his soulmate for their lunch date, regardless of how it might look to the press; Mr Snape had requested no waitlists, and one meal with his family had suggested he would find this a far more comfortable alternative to any other places Tom could think of.

"Fred and George have told me good things about this place," Mr Snape said as they were seated, both of them ignoring the wide-eyed looks they were receiving from staff and patrons alike. "Weasley," he added before Tom resorted to asking; unfortunately, there was still a great deal he didn't know about his soulmate. "The morons in charge of Wizard Wheezes."

Tom coughed to hopefully cover a laugh. "Are you friendly with the entire clan?"

Mr Snape flashed him a bright grin that promised nothing but trouble. "I don't know I'd call it friendly, but I'm certainly acquainted with them all. Uncle Sirius introduced Mum and me as a way to get back at Dad for making Lucius my godfather. Him and the twins get on famously, and you already know Ginny's my best friend. Ron and I were friends before Hogwarts, but he decided I picked Draco over him and we had a huge falling out, so now we just sort of tolerate each other for the sake of the rest of the family."

"Gryffindors," Tom couldn't quite stop himself from saying.

Mr Snape snorted. "To be fair, Draco probably would have done the same thing if I'd gone into Gryffindor. Best to blame that ridiculous family feud."

They were interrupted by the older woman Tom knew from his previous visit was the owner coming up to their table. "Minister, Mr Snape, this is an unexpected honour."

"My fault, I'm afraid," Mr Snape said with a smile that was far more charming than Tom had known was in his repertoire; his soulmate had been holding out on him. "I haven't had nearly enough experience with the high society living, so I requested some place a bit less classy for lunch. I hope it's not a problem?"

"No problem at all!" the owner insisted. "We're delighted to serve you, of course. What drinks would you like to start?"

It wasn't until after the owner had left to collect their drinks that Mr Snape sighed and let his charming smile fade into something a bit more resigned. "I don't suppose there's anything you can do that doesn't make the papers."

"Not wearing my own face," Tom agreed, which got a quickly muffled laugh from his soulmate.

The owner returned with their drinks, took their food orders, then left them once again; a couple of tables down, closer to the front door, Tom's honour guard of aurors were receiving a similar treatment, though they were being waited on by one of the normal waitstaff.

"Speaking of papers," Tom said while casting a muffling charm around them from under the table, which earned him a raised eyebrow from his soulmate, "I couldn't help but notice that Ms Skeeter somehow missed reporting on events in your home."

Mr Snape's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Did she? Her loss," he said in a casual tone.

Tom watched him for a moment, looking for any other slips, any real signs of weakness. But his soulmate just smiled and sipped at his drink, as though he knew exactly what Tom wanted to know and was simply waiting for him to ask. And, given that Lucius was the one who had promised he had a leash on Skeeter, Tom suspected he knew at least some of what Lucius hadn't bothered to fill him in on. (And Tom, having been far too busy and not inclined to care about how a single reporter got her scoops, hadn't pressed him. An oversight he was starting to regret, though at least Skeeter's reporting had remained kind to him and been as close to adoring towards Mr Snape as Tom had ever seen from her.)

Well, Tom had never enjoyed admitting to his own lack of knowledge, and he had said that he wouldn't use Mr Snape to further his own ambitions. (At least, not without his own consent.) "I suppose it was," he agreed. "If we're lucky, she'll continue to lose out."

Mr Snape's smile was a little lazy, but his eyes gleamed. "Oh, I'm sure we will be."

Mr Snape definitely knew how Lucius was controlling Skeeter. Tom supposed he could live with trusting him to manage her in regard to their relationship.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their food, and while their hostess frowned slightly at the faint shimmer of the ward around their table, she didn't call them on it, nor did she make any move to dispel it.

Tom watched as Mr Snape took a careful bite of one of his bao. "This," he declared after swallowing, "is actually really good. I'm coming back here. Probably without you."

Tom couldn't quite stop a snort at that, but he politely waited until his soulmate had finished his first bao before pointing out, "If you honestly believe you'll attract less attention coming here alone, by all means."

Mr Snape grimaced. "Shit. Maybe I'll drag Draco in with me, then; the news of a Malfoy eating here will trump my coming back."

Tom surprised himself a little bit with a too-loud laugh. "Lucius would be aghast."

Mr Snape's responding grin was wide and far too attractive. "Honestly, it would be worth it for that alone, even if they'll get me back by dragging me somewhere fancy."

Tom considered his soulmate's grimace for a moment, then asked, "Is it unfamiliarity, then, or actual discomfort?"

Mr Snape sighed, his shoulders sagging. "A little bit of both. Neither Mum nor Dad have seen the point of dropping that much money for a stuffy meal out. Lucius insisted I suffer propriety lessons before Hogwarts, which culminated with a meal out at Carême," he explained, citing what was probably the most exclusive restaurant in the whole of magical Europe, which Tom himself had only been to twice, both having been invited by a member of a purist family. "I mean, you've seen what my family is like at meals; that's not really a comfortable setting for me."

"I'm not sure you should hold Carême as the baseline for fancy restaurants," Tom murmured.

His soulmate snorted. "No, I know it's on the extreme end of the range. Lucius and Narcissa usually take me out to Manger Magique to celebrate my birthday, though," he said, citing the most expensive magical restaurant in the United Kingdom. "Which I know is also on the higher end of the spectrum, but that's the one that I'm familiar with."

Tom hummed. "So, if I were to make a reservation at New Trishaan...?" It wasn't nearly as expensive as Manger Magique, but it did often have a waitlist and they had been known to turn away guests who didn't dress up.

Mr Snape frowned and stared down at his food for a long moment, before saying, "I suppose I would be willing to give it a try." Then he glanced up at Tom and offered him a slightly shy smile. "But only because it's you."

It had been a very long time since Tom had felt flustered by anything, let alone so simple a line, and yet.

He cleared his throat and hoped he wasn't doing something unfortunate, like blushing. "Well then. Let me know a date and I can make the reservation."

"Okay. How far in advance?"

Tom raised an eyebrow at that, far more comfortable with the familiar cloak of confidence that came from being able to say, "I am Minister for Magic; if I asked for a table tomorrow night, it would happen."

Mr Snape laughed at that, his whole face lit with delight. "And I thought Draco was insufferable."

Tom snorted. "I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I do know my own worth. At least for so long as I retain my current seat."

His soulmate snorted. "Fair enough." Then his expression turned a little speculative and he asked, "Does this mean we're actually dating, now?"

"I believe so," Tom agreed, hoping it wasn't obvious that his heart had begun to race for no clear reason. He leant forward slightly, letting his mouth turn up with a smirk. "Which, I do believe, means that you should stop running away after kissing my cheek."

Mr Snape flushed a rather fetching shade of pink and he sputtered a bit. "That wasn't– I didn't run, you massive git! I just–"

Tom started laughing, probably a little too entertained about flustering his soulmate so much. Though he was not, it should be noted, the sort of mean humour he usually derived from such. Not a first for him, but close.

"Fine! See if I get you any gifts, now!" Mr Snape snapped, but the glare that accompanied it was rather ruined by the colour of his cheeks.

Tom coughed. "I hadn't been aware you had such plans."

Mr Snape looked away and muttered what sounded like, "Yeah, well, if you weren't so hard to shop for..."

It was probably only because Mr Snape was looking away that Tom found the courage to reach out and take the hand his soulmate had left on the table, then pull it forward to kiss the knuckles of. "I promise," he murmured while Mr Snape's dying blush returned in full force, "that I'll cherish anything you happen to get for me."

Mr Snape stared at him for a long moment, looking a little like his faculties had gone on brief holiday, and then he swallowed and whispered, "Did you practice that?"

"Not necessarily with you in mind," Tom admitted, because he'd used the same move and low tone with people plenty of times over the years, because even as young as he looked, he could pull of charming. Of course, he'd never had to wait until the other person was looking away, before; his soulmate had a rather unfortunate power over him, in that way.

"Is it weird that that makes me feel a little better?" Mr Snape asked as he slipped both of his hands under the table, as though to protect them from any further knuckle kisses; Tom wondered if he should be insulted or not.

"You know," Mr Snape said after casting a quick glance around the restaurant, "if you'd waited until we were outside, that could have made the front page."

Tom raised an eyebrow at him. "Whatever would your mother say?"

"Please, she teaches teenagers for a living; I'm sure she'd just appreciate that we waited until after I'd finished Hogwarts to do anything that could be construed as scandalous in public."

"If you think that's scandalous, I really have to wonder what you had in mind when we first met."

His soulmate promptly flushed again. "If anything about that night shows up in a paper, I'm going to have to curse someone," he muttered, low enough that Tom almost thought he was talking to someone else. But then he looked up at Tom and stated, "I did say 'construed' as scandalous. At least insofar as taking place in a public forum; if you're interested in public exposure or sex, we're going to have to discuss some ground rules."

Tom almost choked on the drink he'd been in the middle of, and he very quickly set his drink back down and closed his eyes against the smug grin his soulmate was wearing. "I am genuinely concerned about the way Hogwarts students spend their time," he informed no one in particular.

Mr Snape snorted. "It's mostly the Hufflepuffs, honestly, though I'm fairly certain they only say some of those things for the reaction of students in other houses."

"Revenge at its most juvenile," Tom decided, and his soulmate laughed.

One of the aurors cleared their throat in that loud, obvious way that was meant to catch attention, and Tom checked the time.

"Time to pay?" Mr Snape suggested.

"It seems so," Tom agreed, and was a little surprised when his soulmate casually pulled down the muffling ward he'd put up. Given, he already knew his soulmate was no slouch when it came to magical strength, not based on the auror-level ward he'd put up months ago, but he hadn't really expected to watch him end one of Tom's own wards without breaking into a sweat. (Not many people could lay claim to such a feat.)

Tom paid for both Mr Snape and himself, as well as the aurors, drily commenting, "It's probably the cheapest meal a minister has ever charged."

A couple of the aurors muffled chuckles, but his soulmate just laughed outright, then said, "Their loss; the food was good enough to put Manger Magique to shame."

The manager was beaming as she ushered them all out, and Tom had to mentally applaud his soulmate for that compliment; doubtless, he'd get at least one half-priced meal for it.

Outside the restaurant, of course, there were a number of reporters mostly failing to blend in with the afternoon crowd; Tom was a little surprised none of them had tried barging into the shop, but he expected one of the aurors had put up a ward or warning note on the door. Or perhaps the owner had done; Tom didn't expect she'd have appreciated her shop turning into a circus.

"I should head home," Mr Snape murmured, just barely loud enough for Tom to hear him.

Tom seriously considered making a quip about him not wanting to return to the ministry, but discarded the idea when he factored in the watching press. Instead, he said, "Let me know which night works best for you, for dinner."

"I will," Mr Snape agreed, right before he spun in towards Tom, eliminating the polite space between them with far more speed and grace than Tom would have expected, and pushed up on his toes so he could press his lips to Tom's.

All thought just sort of...vanished from Tom's mind, leaving him with the most base of instincts, and he leant into the kiss slightly, easing the strain on his shorter soulmate, and threaded his fingers into thick black hair.

It didn't even occur to him that they were in public until his soulmate pulled back, the brightness of his eyes and the dark pink of his flush so very obvious in the afternoon sun; he was absolutely gorgeous, and Tom actually had to bite his tongue to keep that to himself.

"Bye, Tom," Mr Snape whispered, the words fanning out across Tom's lips. And then he pulled fully away and vanished with a pop.

He really, really needed to stop doing that.

-0-

At least half the reason Harry had apparated away as quickly as he had, was to keep Rita from flying off before he could sit her down and clarify what she wasn't allowed to publish (and maybe obliviate a couple of things, but he'd never admit as much willingly). The debrief before she started writing her article was something Lucius had very strongly suggested after the article about their visit in Hogsmeade had broken, because while Rita was inclined to be kind to the minister and Harry because of Lucius, she'd eventually overhear something they would rather not get out. Which she had, so Harry was glad he'd taken the advice. (He often was, when it came to Lucius' advice.)

Rita's article was front and centre the next morning, with a photo of himself kissing the minister in place of pride directly above it.

"Doesn't Skeeter have anything better to do than stalk teenagers?" Lily demanded with a glare towards the paper.

"At least she's being nice about it?" Harry offered.

Severus snorted; whether or not he knew about Rita being an animagus or that Lucius was holding that information over her, Harry had no clue, but he didn't, for one moment, believe that his father would buy that Rita was acting out of some sort of twisted house loyalty (or whatever excuse people told themselves) when she wrote her articles.

"Small favours," Lily muttered, before casting Harry an appraising look. "I thought you said it was a quick kiss," she said, because he'd warned his family the night before, in case one of the photographers had caught a photo.

Harry glanced at the photo, where his photo-self was quite enthusiastically snogging the minister's photo-self. "You can't, actually, hold me accountable for what a photograph is doing," he insisted.

Severus snorted again, then grabbed the paper and opened it to an inside page so he could hide from the unimpressed stare Lily shot him.

Harry's photo-self pulled away from the minister just long enough to wink at him, then went right back to it.

(Harry was absolutely, one hundred percent, not jealous.)

"Just..." Lily sighed and shot Harry a slightly tired look. "Maybe keep anything more than a quick peck behind closed doors."

Harry raised his eyebrows and couldn't quite stop himself from saying, "Mum, did you just give me permission to have sex?"

Severus choked from behind the paper, while Harry's photo-self gave him a thumbs up. Without stopping his lip-lock.

(Seriously. Not jealous.)

"That's it. You're spending the day with Uncle Sirius."

Harry groaned, because Sirius was absolutely going to be a misery about the whole thing – in all fairness, he'd have been a misery no matter who Harry's soulmate was; something about a Black family tradition – but he didn't bother fighting her about it. (The problem with having a professor for a mum, was that she'd learnt all the possible bullshitting tricks long before Harry'd been old enough to try using them.)

If nothing else, at least Remus didn't have to work that afternoon, so he was there to save Harry from Sirius. (Or save Sirius from Harry; some days, Harry sort of wished Severus had managed to off Sirius during one of the many, many attempts during their youth and adulthood before Lily and Remus had banded together to enforce a truce. Not that he didn't love his uncle, because he did, he just...didn't always have the patience for his particular brand of chaos.)

Given his mum's last punishment, Harry avoided bringing up the topic of sex around her again, and also avoided giving the press any more photos of him and the minister snogging. Which was made especially easy by the minister – Tom; Harry finally forced himself, around their third official date, to stop thinking of and referring to his soulmate by his title or last name – picking the fancier restaurants for dinner dates, as most of them had a strict policy about not letting in the press, while also sporting wards that wouldn't let in an animagus in animal form. (Rita was hardly the only animagus who might follow someone rich and/or famous into a restaurant, though she was, perhaps, the least inclined to violence of such offenders.)

Not that that kept the lot of them from flocking outside and writing all manner of ridiculous romantic drivel in whatever periodicals were willing to publish them, but it did cut down on photographs and the specifics of their conversations making the articles.

Tom's preferences when picking the fancier restaurants of the magical world, Harry quickly enough discovered, were quite different from Lucius', because while Lucius was very firmly attached to French cuisine, Tom seemed determined to try every nationality possible. "It's a little like going on a world tour," Harry had joked on their fourth official date.

"If you'd prefer going on a proper world tour–" Tom started with that particular smile that Harry was halfway convinced meant he was taking the mickey, but he still wasn't completely certain.

"I think," he interrupted a little too loudly, "that I can fund my own world trip, if I really get the urge. Let the ministry's coffers alone."

"Such implications," Tom complained, but his eyes were bright with what Harry had come to recognise as a suppressed smile, so he just rolled his eyes in response.

Not everyone, of course, was amused by his regular dates with his soulmate; Ron seemed to look more sour every time he saw him, which was quite often only because he liked to hang out with Ginny over the summers. (He'd usually actually be spending time between the Weasleys', Neville's, and Draco's, as those were the friends whose parents didn't set them up with some sort of summer event and were comfortable with them having friends over without supervision. But Neville was off studying with some big-name herbologist in Brazil, and Draco was spending most of his days following Lucius around.)

"He's just jealous that he's not the minister's soulmate," Ginny said rather loudly and pointedly at one point.

"The hell I am!" Ron shouted back.

"Ronald Bilius!" Molly called.

Harry and Ginny traded grins and quickly made their escape to giggle about Ron out of range of the Weasley matriarch's hearing.

"What's your mum think of all the dates?" Ginny asked once they'd stopped giggling, and Harry was a little impressed that she'd managed to hold off on asking the question for so long. (That said, she'd already heard about Harry getting sent to Sirius for the sex comment, because he didn't doubt she'd find out from the twins when they found out from Sirius; Harry wasn't the only one who enjoyed tormenting his closest friends with information collected from outside sources.)

"Honestly, I think she's just glad I'm not moping around the house, panicking about my NEWT scores."

Ginny laughed. "Yeah, you were a right mess this time two years ago, weren't you?"

Harry rolled his eyes; as if Ginny hadn't been a pretty mess herself while waiting for her own OWLs last summer. "I've got other things on my mind. Anyway, Dad's nervous enough for both of us."

Ginny coughed. "He's really that worried about you being an auror?"

"Please, it's not the being an auror that bothers him, it's the being around Uncle Sirius all day."

"Your family," Ginny muttered.

Harry shoved her, because she really shouldn't be talking; at least Sirius and Severus were mature enough to not start a brawl in in middle of Diagon Alley. Which Lucius or Arthur had done at least four times that Harry knew of. (He had photographic proof of two of those fights. Which he'd already held over Lucius' head once, but he'd yet to find an occasion that required having blackmail against Arthur.)

"What's your soulmate's opinion?" Ginny asked after shoving him back.

Harry shrugged. "If he's got one, he hasn't mentioned it to me."

"What, no comments about how well auror robes fit?"

Harry groaned, regretting – for what felt like the hundredth time since she'd got over her little crush on him and the topic of relationships was no longer horribly awkward between them – the fact that they were best friends. "There's been no talk about the fit of any robes between us." Honestly, most of the conversations between Tom and him involved filling each other in on their interpersonal relationships – friends, to those who didn't suffer from too much time in politics, although he was beginning to suspect his soulmate had never had a proper friend at all – listening to Tom complain about whatever current political drama was on his mind, or debating magic.

"Shame."

"However," Harry said with a too-wide smile, "if you would like to hear about the fit of Tom's robes–"

"Spare me," Ginny interrupted him, covering his mouth with one hand.

(Harry resisted licking her palm in retaliation, if only because he'd learnt early on that he'd regret it.)

"If you really need someone to discuss your boyfriend's pretty face with, I'm sure Parkinson would be happy to serve."

Harry grimaced and ducked her hand. "Not a chance; I'm still waiting for her to devise the perfect accident to get me out of the way."

Ginny snickered. "Doesn't she have her soulmate?"

"Oh, I'm fairly certain Blaise knows better than to get between a woman and her ambitions. Beyond, you know, potentially saving her life because she makes terrible life choices on her route to sleep with all the prettiest eligible bachelors in range."

Okay, he'd maybe gone a little too far, there – he did actually like Josina Zabini, though he'd only met her a couple of times – but he'd learnt fairly early on that, when he was surrounded by Weasleys, the better part of valour was to mock his purist friends. Especially Draco. (To be fair, the opposite often held true when spending any time with his purist friends. Again, especially Draco, who took especial glee in badmouthing Ron. Because some family feuds really did live forever.)

Amusingly enough, Harry's NEWT scores arrived the morning following that particular conversation with Ginny. They were not, however, alone, and Harry frowned and opened the letter with the ministry seal while his parents focussed on the letter from the review board.

The surprise letter was an offer from the Department of Mysteries to join their staff, exact position to be determined based on where he best fit.

"He didn't," Harry heard himself whisper, because other than their one conversation in his room, the DoM hadn't been mentioned again by either of them. And Tom was the only person he'd mentioned an interest in the DoM to.

Harry had thought his soulmate would at least wait until he'd got his scores to start throwing his weight around on Harry's behalf, but apparently not.

"This is wonderful, Harry!" Lily called.

"Straight Os," Severus added, and he only sounded a little disappointed.

But then they both must have noticed something off about his expression, because Lily was hurrying around the table while Severus set down the letter with his scores and asked, "What is it?"

"Bad news?" Lily guessed, even as she reached his side and hugged him.

Harry just held up the letter for his mum to read, not really sure how he felt. Disappointed, maybe a little betrayed; it should have been a happy occasion, but he didn't feel happy, and that was probably the worst part.

"I didn't know you'd applied to the Department of Mysteries," Lily said, and Severus straightened on the other side of the table.

Harry swallowed. "I didn't–" He had to pause to clear his throat, and his mum kindly squeezed his shoulders; a gentle reminder that she'd be there, supporting him, no matter his choices for his future. "I know they're not in the habit of taking students right out of Hogwarts, but I said to Tom–" His voice caught and he coughed again, hating the burn of acid or emotions in his throat. "He said I should try anyway, that he'd make sure they took me, if I wanted."

"You don't have to accept the offer," Severus pointed out.

"It's not that," Lily said, and Harry was so very grateful for both of them, because they were so much better at explaining things to each other when he was struggling to articulate something. "Harry wanted to try on his own, get the offer based on his own merit, not because his soulmate made sure it would happen."

Severus frowned down at the paper with Harry's NEWT scores, some of his long hair escaping the clasp Harry had made for him when he was six (and which Severus still wore around the house) to brush against the bottom corner of the page. "I don't pretend to know what the Department of Mysteries looks for in their candidates, but I expect your scores would cover it, so you likely would have got the offer based on your own merit."

"I guess," Harry muttered.

Severus slid the paper with his scores across the table to him, a silent order to actually look at the outcome his seven years of being near-about the best student he could be.

Severus hadn't been lying about the straight Os; every single exam Harry had taken, he'd got an outstanding in. Hermione and Draco were going to be absolute nightmares about it, same as they were when they'd found out how well he'd done on his OWLs. (Just because he didn't care to constantly be fighting them for the head of the class, didn't mean he wasn't able to beat them both out. Honestly, after seeing how serious Lucius was about Draco being head of the class, he'd determined that the best thing to do, as Draco's friend, was to let him have the spot, especially since Lily and Severus didn't actually care how high in the grade rankings he was.)

"It's entirely possible that the NEWT committee is in the habit of sending on the names and scores of the best students in each year to the Department of Mysteries," Severus continued, his tone that evenly factual one that most of Harry's friends hated.

"It would certainly make sense, in terms of catching those graduates who fit their ideal, but might not think to apply," Lily agreed, squeezing Harry's shoulders once again before letting him go and holding down the letter from the DoM. "It's still early enough, why don't you apparate over and ask the minister."

That sounded like the sort of sensible suggestion that Harry should take up, and probably would have thought of himself, if he hadn't been so blindsided with his own emotions.

"Yeah," he said, accepting the letter back and standing. As he moved away from the table, he glanced down at his house robes, debated for a moment, then decided he was decent enough to pay his soulmate a visit. (Lucius would probably disagree, especially given who Harry's soulmate was, but Harry wasn't of a mind to really care that much, anyway.)

While Harry had only actually been to the minister's manor the once with his mum, Tom had taken a bit of his blood on their fourth date and added him to the wards, insisting it would be a far safer place for him to escape to, should he need to. (Also, should Harry need or wish to visit, they wouldn't have to trade messages with portkeys or Tom fussing with opening the floo. Which Harry had definitely been on board with.)

The room he apparated to was unfamiliar – not really a surprise, since he'd only ever seen two rooms – but the house-elf that popped into existence shortly after his arrival was the same one who had been around during his last visit, and Harry felt some of the tension that had been bunching up his shoulders ease away at the familiar face. "Is Tom here?" he asked.

"Master Tom is having breakfast in the kitchen," the house-elf agreed. "If Master Harry will follow, Dipdy will lead."

"Wait," Harry said, and his voice came out a little strangled. "I'm not– Tom asked you to call me master?"

"Master Harry is Master Tom's second soul," the house-elf informed him in a tone that said that what she'd said made sense to her, even if Harry was still extremely confused.

Tom adding him to the manor's wards was one thing, but giving him ownership of a house-elf? That was...

Okay, Harry didn't quite have words for that, and Dipdy wasn't waiting for him to sort himself out, so he shook his thoughts away and hurried to follow the house-elf through the hallways of the manor.

The kitchen was much smaller than the one at Harry's house, likely intended for house-elves more than humans, but there was a breakfast bar against one wall clearly meant for humans, and Tom was seated there with a half-eaten plate of breakfast, a cup of tea or coffee, and The Daily Prophet in front of him. He put the paper down almost as soon as Harry entered, his expression twisting with concern. "Harry? Are you okay?"

Harry was a little warmed that that was the first thing Tom said; it made him regret not having his truth bracelet a little less. "Did you talk to anyone in the Department of Mysteries about me?" he demanded.

Tom immediately shook his head. "No. You said you wanted to try on your own. The only person I've spoken to about your job prospects was Amelia, and that's because she asked if your uncle's crowing about had any basis," he finished in a tone that was more wry than anything else.

And while Harry still couldn't completely read him all the time, he was pretty sure he knew him well enough to tell he wasn't lying. So he swallowed and admitted, "I got an offer from them. The DoM."

Tom blinked, and then his eyes widened. "You got your scores?" he demanded, getting up and moving towards Harry. "Let me see."

Harry couldn't quite stop a laugh, not certain if he should be more annoyed or charmed, but he did hold out his scores, as well as the offer letter from the Department of Mysteries, since he was holding both of them.

Tom glanced at the offer letter, his mouth turning up slightly on one side, then he flipped to the page with his scores. "These," he murmured after a moment, "are quite impressive. Congratulations, Harry." And then he turned one of his way-too-gorgeous smiles on Harry.

Harry grinned back, finally letting himself feel the delight and accomplishment that had been muted under his disappointment earlier. "What do I get for it?" he demanded.

And then he realised what he'd said and covered his face, embarrassed. "Shit, sorry. That's not what what I–"

"Yes, it was," Tom interrupted, laughter in his voice. And then he was in Harry's space, one hand carding through his hair, the other folding around Harry's side, pulling him in even closer.

Harry leant up and kissed him, because kissing Tom was definitely one of his top three favourite things in the world. Which they didn't do nearly often enough, on account of being in public more often than not. Which was super unfortunate. Especially since Tom was an ace kisser.

"So," Tom murmured after what most certainly not enough kissing, "what would you like as a present? Lunch somewhere cheap and greasy? Dinner at Manger Magique?"

Harry snorted and smacked his arm, because Lucius had reminded him about their yearly birthday dinner there a couple of days ago (Harry may have 'accidentally' forgotten at one point a few years ago and made alternate plans, and Lucius had responded by ensuring he never 'forget' again), which he'd then complained to Tom about.

Tom chuckled, low and warm, and brushed his lips against Harry's, almost too quick to be called a kiss. "Should I take the day off?"

Harry was pretty sure he stopped breathing for a moment, because a whole day alone with his soulmate? Sounded like the worst/best idea ever. "Mum'll kill me," he heard himself say from a bit of a distance. Which was a bit dumb, but probably accurate.

Tom laughed. "She does realise you're of age, right?" he asked, his tone teasing.

Harry scoffed, because he was fairly certain that was just a parent thing, but since Tom had never had parents, what did he know? "Can you actually afford a day off?" he asked instead of continuing talking about his mother.

Tom shrugged and glanced away in that way he sometimes did that Harry was starting to suspect meant he was embarrassed, rather than a bad attempt to hide he was lying. "I can't think of anything that's happening today that's more important than you."

Harry groaned and hid his too-warm face in Tom's dark green house robe. "I can't believe you just said that," he complained.

Tom's chuckle was low and warm in all the best ways. "Have you eaten?"

Harry'd had about half his toast before the post had come, so he admitted, "Not really."

"Dipdy– Never mind, carry on."

Harry peeked over at the breakfast bar and spotted a new plate of food and a chair had been added next to where Tom had been seated when Harry had come in. "Our house-elves do that, sometimes," he commented as he forced himself to leave Tom's arms. (In his defence, now he was thinking about it, food sounded really good.)

"I don't usually have so few guests that I notice mine being on top of things," Tom said, his tone wry. "Dipdy has, however, always seemed to have a sixth sense when it comes to my needs."

Harry frowned a bit as he sat in the chair left for him. "She called me 'Master Harry' when I got here," he said, hoping it didn't come out sounding as accusing as he was afraid it had; he was fairly certain he'd accused his soulmate of enough that morning.

"Dipdy?" Tom said, and it wasn't until he heard the sound of a house-elf appearing behind him that Harry realised he'd been calling her. "Why are you calling Harry master?"

"Master Harry is Master Tom's second soul," Dipdy said.

Harry wasn't certain if it was because she'd already said the same thing to him, or because she was saying it to someone else, but he realised: "We're soulmates."

Tom glanced between Harry and Dipdy once, then sighed and leant back against the breakfast bar. "I would say I've never heard of a house-elf so quickly accepting their master's soulmate, but it's honestly never something I'd wondered after. Will the other house-elves also start deferring to Harry?"

"Their master is the minister," Dipdy replied. "They will obey Master Harry, but Master Harry is not their master."

Tom sighed, then offered Harry a tired smile. "Permissions for family members of the minister, essentially."

Harry coughed and ducked his head to hide a grin. "So, I'm family, now?"

"Insofar as the manor's house-elves are concerned," Tom agreed before catching one of Harry's hands and raising it towards his face. "Insofar as I am concerned, however, you're my extremely handsome other half." And then he kissed the back of Harry's hand.

Harry groaned and tried not to care that he was almost certainly blushing as he demanded, "How long did you spend practising that?"

"Not nearly long enough, evidently," Tom decided with a frown.

Harry huffed and took his hand back so he could return to breakfast. "I could just go home, you know."

Tom was rather suddenly right next to Harry, his breath warm against his the side of his face. "If you must," he murmured.

"Totty!" Harry called, his voice coming out a little too high, and he firmly turned away from his soulmate. Which meant Tom was breathing against the nape of his neck, unfortunately.

Totty popped into existence next to Harry's chair. "Master Harry called?" she asked.

Harry cleared his throat and agreed, "Yeah. Let Mum and Dad know I'll be at Tom's for a while?"

Totty smiled that particular smile she'd developed for when he asked her to take pictures of people, and Harry had a sinking feeling he was going to regret a number of his life choices before the day was out. "Totty will!" she agreed, then vanished.

"Did Auror Black raise her, perchance?" Tom asked, sounding a little disturbed.

Harry sighed. "Unfortunately, her oddities are all my own fault. At least Mum should wait to give me hell until I get home?"

"You could just stay the night."

Harry choked on a laugh and twisted to shoot his soulmate an incredulous look. "And how, exactly, is that intended to help?"

Tom shrugged. "I never said it would."

Harry groaned and made himself return to his food. Politely, Tom moved away to send Dipdy to his secretary, then followed Harry's example.

"So, do I get a tour?" Harry asked he sat back and his plate vanished.

"How much of a tour do you want?" Tom asked in a tone that was way too innocent. "We can go room-by-room, or I can just do the highlights."

"How many rooms are on the highlights list?" Harry asked, even though he suspected he knew the answer.

"Just the one," Tom admitted, and then he flashed his unfairly gorgeous smile.

"The library?" Harry shot back, mostly to be difficult.

Tom blinked, looking almost thrown for a second, then he rallied and said, "If you'd rather the library, there is a relatively comfortable sofa in there."

Harry opened his mouth to ask why he'd care about a sofa more than the books, rethought it before he actually spoke, and settled on, "Our first time is not going to be on a sofa, comfortable or not."

Tom coughed and very firmly didn't meet his eyes as he said, "In that case, perhaps the bedroom?"

Harry let out the most put-upon sigh in his repertoire, then agreed, "I guess so."

"Well, then," Tom murmured, and motioned for Harry to join him in leaving the kitchen.

Once out in the hallways of the manor, Harry said, "I would like a proper tour at some point. If only so I don't need a guide any time I need to get somewhere."

Tom coughed and flashed him a quick, understanding smile. "I think I can accommodate that at some point today. Though we may need to hold off on actually going into the library for a different day, since your mum can't come and drag us out."

"I don't know, she might actually buy that we got distracted by the library all day if I come home with a couple of books."

Tom snorted. "No, she won't."

Okay, she probably wouldn't, not after Harry's thoughtless comment about sex a few weeks before. Which was unfortunate, because that meant he'd need another excuse to snoop through his soulmate's books; Harry didn't doubt for one moment that he had some extremely rare ones, and plenty that Harry would be interested in.

(Not that Harry expected he'd have a lot of spare time to read them in, now he had his NEWTs. His parents would probably give him the rest of the week and the weekend to decide which of his options he really wanted to go for, but he'd need to have sent out his acceptance to the DoM or an inquiry to the aurors by the end of breakfast Monday, or Severus would start taking up all his free time.)

Tom’s bedroom was probably the most comfortable room Harry had yet seen, which wasn't due to the too-plush carpeting, overstuffed bedding, and the little gleams of gold edging on the frames of the pretty little landscapes and the various hardwood furniture. But, rather, the faint indentations on one of the pillows – clearly the one Tom favoured – a book and glass of water on one of the side tables, and various miscellaneous odds and ends strewn about the flat surfaces. It didn't look messy, but it did look lived-in, which was more than could be said for the other rooms Harry had seen.

(If the library didn't also look lived-in, Harry would eat his school hat; everything he knew about his soulmate said he probably spent the most time in the library out of all of the other rooms in the manor. Or, at least, the majority of his waking hours.)

Harry had never actually had sex – kissed and messed around with a couple of other students who hadn't found their soulmate, sure – but he knew plenty of the specifics after Sirius' very gay 'birds and the birds' speech, which he'd been forced to suffer as a result of coming out to his family. (Severus had given him a very brief rundown of what men and women did together the year before, which had ended with both of them being super uncomfortable, but Severus had insisted it was best Harry get the talk from him, rather than Sirius. After sitting through Sirius' version, Harry much agreed with his father.)

Tom, though, was very clearly experienced. He was also careful and refused to let Harry rush things, which was simultaneously way too sweet and super irritating.

It was awesome, though, as impatient as Harry might have got a time or two. (10/10, would bang again, as Ginny liked to say for the sheer purpose of watching people sputter and blush.)

"So," Tom murmured after, while Harry was cuddled close to his side and seriously considering talking his soulmate into a second round, "are you going to accept the Department of Mysteries' offer?"

Harry took a long moment to watch the gleam of sweat on Tom's chest, before quietly agreeing, "Yeah. I mean, it is what I wanted, unexpected as the offer was." Then he glanced up and met Tom's calm stare. "That okay?"

Tom smiled, warm and gorgeous, and slid his fingers into Harry's hair. "If you're happy, I'm happy," he promised, before tugging Harry up for a kiss, which he did, and gladly.

"That said," Tom added before they actually did start a second round, "if you have any problems, you'll have to let me know. If just to give me an excuse to misuse my power."

Harry laughed, a little too loud in the warm quiet of the bedroom. "That didn't come out nearly as sweet as you were intending."

"Are you saying romance is dead?"

"I'm saying fuck me again before I go looking for the library."

Tom laughed and did.

-0-

Tom never did have to bring the force of his office down on the Department of Mysteries, as Harry quickly found his own little niche there, and he never once regretted his choice. (Especially since it meant that people didn't usually try to use him for their political gains, despite who his soulmate was, but he was still perfectly positioned to know when there was blackmail to be gained. Which, yes, Tom did eventually find out about, and used a few times, though only ever with Harry's permission.)

Their wedding was a ridiculously extravagant affair, as was befitting of the United Kingdom's Minister for Magic, and while their month-long honeymoon had to be cut short on account of a minor international rights dispute, neither of them minded overmuch. (Especially since they'd spent at least half of it dodging reporters looking for more fodder for articles on the wizarding public's favourite celebrity couple, as Ginny called them.)

Eventually – though not for at least two decades – Tom would retire, and the public would – mostly unknowingly – vote in his preferred successor: Ginevra Longbottom. (Her claiming the minister's seat would piss off a lot of the purists, especially Draco, on account of her refusing to let him whisper in her ear. Of course, once the purists realise that she'll listen to Harry, they start flocking to him the same way they once had to his soulmate; he spends a lot of time cursing his fate, while both Ginny and Tom laugh at him and Neville pats his shoulder consolingly.)

Shortly after Tom retires, Harry will become the head of the Department of Mysteries, a position he'd been refusing for years, insisting that he would only accept it when his husband wouldn't be his direct boss. (His superior had got a number of laughs and dirty jokes out of that, which Harry bore with resigned humour, and had the paper for his promotion on his desk the minute Tom announced he'd be stepping down.)

In the end, they may not quite live happily ever after, no matter what the papers insist, but they do live happily together. And that's really the most anyone can ever ask for.

.