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Growing Old With You

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Harry Snape had spent the first six years of his Hogwarts career being the perfect student – getting good marks, winning more points than anyone else in his year, only using his blood-father's cloak and contraband map in emergencies, and becoming one of the most honourable and universally respected Slytherin prefects in decades – but with the end of his childhood approaching like a noose, he'd decided to follow his honorary uncle Sirius' long-time advice and sneak out, maybe leave some pranks in the common rooms of the other houses. And not even getting caught and given detention by his mum right before the winter holidays could really stop him (though it had taught him not to get drinks in the village he'd grown up in).

Which was why he went to Diagon Alley the first night of the new term that he didn't have detention, stopping by Fred and George's shop first, because they'd give him so much hell if they found out he'd come 'round Diagon without popping past.

"Our favourite snake, out for a stroll," one of the twins said when they saw him.

Harry squinted – the lighting in the shop always made it a little hard to spot one of the dozen little differences between the twins, most of which Ginny had taught him as payment for lost bets or payment for assistance with assignments – before saying, "I do so always appreciate you and George not being arseholes about my house."

Fred let out one of the ridiculous and over-the-top gasps that Harry was near certain they'd picked up from Draco just to piss him off. "But I am George!"

Harry made a show of rolling his eyes, which made Fred laugh and brought George out from the back room. "Naughty, naughty, little hisser," George said with one of those grins that would make a sane person run like hell in the opposite direction.

Harry, unfortunately, had never had much sanity – his father, Severus, blamed Sirius or, when he thought it wouldn't get back to Lily, James – and so considered himself rather immune to most of the twins' attempts to spook people off. (At least, that's the way he put it; most people said he simply lacked the sense to escape while he could.)

"Heard you got detention for drinking your body-weight in old Abe's best moonshine," George continued as he joined Fred.

Harry snorted. "Please. I had one glass of firewhiskey. Whoever you're getting your Hogwarts gossip from is clearly getting it as far from the source as possible. You should look into that."

Both twins grinned and shook their head, and Harry suspected they either didn't care how ridiculously unrealistic their gossip was, or they'd got the truth, then mucked it up themselves, just for Harry's reaction. Which, well, either was certainly possible; Harry's saving grace was that they liked or feared him too much to embarrass him in front of customers. (Or, worse, their mum.)

"So," said Fred, "what's the occasion for this escape attempt?"

Harry shook his head at that description. "Celebrating not having any more detention," he admitted, though that was only half of it. (Not that Fred and George wouldn't understand, if he explained he'd just had the need, he just wasn't in the habit of being completely truthful. Especially not with agents of chaos.)

The twins both raised opposite eyebrows at him, perfectly in sync. "Really," George said in a voice that was dry and unimpressed enough to impress Lucius Malfoy.

"And when your mum catches you again?" Fred asked, voice just as dry and unimpressed as George's.

"How long did you two practise that?" Harry asked in return.

The twins just stared at him, raising their other eyebrows in perfect sync.

Harry let out the most put upon, overly dramatic sigh in his arsenal – perfected via knowing Draco for his whole life and sharing a dorm with him for the past six and a half years – then explained in his best 'I can't believe I have to explain such a simple concept to you pair of dunderheads' – also perfected because of Draco – voice, "Obviously, I'll serve detention, then have another little celebration when it's over."

The pair of them laughed at that; Harry strongly suspected they'd served out their own 'misbehave, get punished for misbehaviour, celebrate end of punishment with more misbehaving, get punished again, celebrate yet again' cycle a fair few times themselves. Especially since he had a better than passing familiarity with the Weasley family matriarch.

"So, going out to get tipsy again?" George guessed.

Harry shrugged. "What else is there?"

The look the twins traded had the hair on the back of Harry's neck standing on end, but they had a hold of his arms before he could think to run for it.

"You haven't met your soulmate yet, right?" Fred asked.

Harry huffed. "Kinda hard to tell, young as I am," he pointed out, because it usually wasn't obvious until after you'd finished your schooling and it became clear you weren't ageing.

The twins just stared at him, because while that was certainly true for muggles, Hogwarts taught a spell to check your status in first year, and it was generally accepted that most witches and wizards checked themselves after meeting new people. (They also taught, in fifth year, a spell to reveal who your soulmate was, once you'd found them. Because it was often a little hard to tell exactly who it was when you met a group of people all at once.)

In truth, Harry wasn't as careful about checking as some people he knew, but he did usually check end of the first week back at Hogwarts. Because, yeah, he hadn't met his soulmate yet, and he was really sort of hoping it was another student. Mostly because most magical people had better luck finding their soulmates while still in school, likely due to their small number.

But, too, most people who didn't find their soulmates at Hogwarts – or whichever magical school they attended – didn't end up meeting their soulmate until well past twenty-one, which was the age it was widely accepted in the magical world, at least, that you should either be settled in a career or already married. Or both.

Which meant most people ended up marrying someone who wasn't their soulmate, and while you could be happy that way – see Lily and Severus; both of their soulmates were dead, but they'd been friends forever and ended up marrying as much for the stability as because they loved one another – there was supposed to always be a sense of loss or not belonging or something. And Harry, who had grown up watching his parents hurt even as they loved each other, very much didn't want that for himself. (He also, more importantly, didn't want to refuse to marry, only to find his own soulmate had done so and was perfectly happy with their family, because he was fairly certain that would be the absolute worst.)

"Fine, no, I haven't found them yet," Harry muttered, because they'd all been silent long enough, it was obvious they would be content waiting all night for him to speak. (And, unlike the last time, there wouldn't be salvation in the form of one of their mothers to get Harry out of their grasps.)

"Well," Fred started, smiling a little too wide.

"It just so happens," George continued, and Harry bit back a groan; he didn't know a single person who enjoyed twin-speak. Other than the twins themselves.

"That this is the night–"

"–when the Leaky Cauldron–"

"–holds their weekly–"

"–Singles' Night Mixer!" they finished together.

"I hate you both," Harry informed them, but he didn't fight them as they pulled him out of their shop and through the alley to the Leaky.

Fred and George, Harry knew, were each other's soulmates – a particularity that most identical twins suffered – and he suspected they'd gone to plenty of these Singles' Nights, looking for partners who didn't mind the idea of settling down with someone who wasn't their soulmate. (George, Harry knew from Ginny, had had his heart set on one of the Gryffindor chasers in his year, but she'd apparently found her soulmate and ended things. Or something equally depressing; Harry honestly hadn't paid that much attention once he'd realised that using the failed relationship to tease George would be far too cruel.)

The pub wasn't quite packed, but it still felt a little too hot, especially with winter cloaks on. Harry stayed long enough to meet a couple of witches, most of whom were introduced to him by one of the twins, because they clearly knew far too many of the people there, then made his escape out the back while neither of them were close enough to stop him.

He checked the time, decided he should have enough time to pick up a proper drink from the pub down Knockturn – which he wasn't supposed to go to, really, but the Leaky proprietor had clearly been intent on keeping any alcohol-related incidents from happening, because he hadn't been serving anything, and no way in hell Harry was going back to the school without drinking something – and made his way down there.

The pub was two doors down from the apothecary Severus preferred to get ingredients at, and Harry ducked as he went past it – the windows looked grimy from the outside, but he knew they were plenty clean inside, and the owner knew him well enough that he might just recognise him and tell Severus – then straightened and did his best to look confident as he pushed into the pub.

The place wasn't anywhere near as packed as the Leaky had been, and it had the same sort of grim air as the Hog's Head. As much as Sirius liked to talk that sort of ambiance down, Harry found it almost soothing, and he felt himself relax as he walked up to the bar and slid onto an open stool.

"Singles' Mixer?" the wizard to his left guessed after Harry had been slid a drink.

"How did you–"

The wizard – who, Harry couldn't help but notice, was way too handsome, with slightly wavy dark hair and eyes that looked almost red when the candlelight hit them right – reached out one long, thin finger and pressed it against Harry's chest, over his heart.

It took Harry a moment to realise the other wizard had been pointing out the nametag George had made and stuck to his cloak while Fred held him still, and then he groaned and ripped it off. "My friends dragged me," he muttered as he crumpled it up and shoved it in a pocket.

"Too crowded?" the other wizard suggested with a long-suffering sort of smile.

He looked to be Harry's age, and he was a little familiar, but Harry couldn't quite envision him in school robes, which meant he was probably older, someone he'd seen while shopping. Which also meant he very likely hadn't met his soulmate yet, and had his own experience with the Leaky's mixer.

"A little bit," he allowed. "But, also, not really something I was looking for tonight. If ever." And, wow, that was a lot more than he'd usually tell a stranger; Harry cast his glass a slightly suspicious look.

"Too loud, too bright, and not enough alcohol?" his barmate suggested.

"A little too heterosexual," Harry heard himself say, then followed it up by casting a couple of detection spells on his drink.

The other wizard laughed, quiet and warm. "It's not in your drink," he said, then shook back the sleeve of his robe enough to show a bracelet of dull metal chains. "It's charmed to push people to tell me the truth; I'm afraid it activated when I touched you."

Harry frowned at the bracelet. It didn't look like much, but he knew from Sirius that it was best to use non-flashy objects for important charms, because then it was less likely to be taken away if you got robbed or captured. (Harry, himself, wore a plain, dull gold cartilage earring that, should he need help, he could take it out and it would send his location to Lily, Severus, and Sirius.) "Are you an auror?" he had to ask.

"No, but I do work in the ministry," the wizard said, tilting his head to the side slightly. "You haven't left."

Harry straightened and narrowed his eyes, because that had sounded a little bit like a challenge. And, well, he may have been sorted into Slytherin – and a part of him certainly knew he was best running for it, before he said something incriminating – but the Hat had suggested he'd do well in Gryffindor, and that was most obvious in his inability to back down from a challenge.

"I don't let truth spells scare me off," Harry said, which wasn't quite the truth, but it was a better response than– "Anyway, you're way too gorgeous for me to just walk away."

That. Harry really should have retreated when he had the chance. Shit. He took a long swallow of his drink, as if that would actually help him.

Unlike the first (and only) time Harry had foolishly propositioned a wizard he hadn't already carefully felt out on the matter – in Cedric's defence, he'd been horrified at his friends' reactions, and swore he would have turned Harry down gently, had he been given the chance – he didn't get cursed or spat on. Instead, the other wizard's eyes narrowed and the look he cast Harry was heated in a way that he'd never really imagined being faced with.

"Gorgeous, am I?" the wizard asked, his voice silky and low.

Harry was going to be dreaming about that voice for months, he just knew it. "Yeah," he whispered, and was fairly certain the word had come out far too breathless. "You should probably be illegal. Are you illegal? Am I going to have a hard time explaining you to my uncle?"

The wizard laughed, quiet and maybe a little surprised. "You don't know who I am," he murmured.

It didn't really sound like a question, but Harry had to ask, "Should I?"

The wizard let out a quiet hum, then long fingers were catching Harry's chin, and his face was turned so he was meeting the not-quite-red eyes of the other wizard. "How old are you?" he asked, his voice gone a little stiff.

Harry swallowed, knew he was damned if he told the truth, but he couldn't stop himself from saying, "Seventeen."

The wizard's expression shut down the same way Severus' would when Sirius said something that hurt him, and he let Harry's chin go so fast, it was almost as though he'd been burnt. "Go back to Hogwarts. Now," he ordered.

And Harry, his chest aching for some reason, slipped off his stool and did.

Probably the only victory of the night, was that he didn't get caught.

-0-

Tom Riddle-Gaunt was hardly the first Minister for Magic who hadn't found his soulmate, but he was, perhaps, the most notable, both for his background – the muggle-raised halfblood of one of the most anti-muggle families in centuries – and for his plethora of pureblood supporters, despite his policies, which called for more rights and an earlier addition of muggleborns to the magical world. He was firmly against the inclusion of and marriage to muggles, but he held to that children should not be held accountable for the choices of their parents. (Given his own background, many people could guess where such a firm stance in regard to the latter had come from.)

Appearing seventeen meant he was often underestimated or talked down to. The former proved beneficial more often than not, but the latter often left him in a terrible temper. Retreating to the pub down Knockturn, where power mattered far more than appearance – it was troubling how many of the darker members of their society never found their soulmate – had become his preferred way of unwinding after a long day spent slogging through the paperwork a nation created.

Finding Hogwarts students in the Knockturn pub was hardly a common occurrence, and it was even less usual for them to admit to attraction to Tom without knowing exactly who he was, but that still didn't make meeting the boy with the bright green eyes particularly notable. Honestly, Tom put the meeting out of his mind almost right away, and had completely forgotten about it by lunchtime the next day. (Piles of dry paperwork had that effect on him; there were days he honestly wondered why he'd ever wanted to be minister.)

So it was a surprise that, when Amelia Bones, the head of the aurors, said, "Are you ageing, Minister?" at the start of their twice a month meeting, that green-eyed young man was the first face to pop into Tom's head.

"I–" he started, before stopping as he realised he wasn't really certain how to respond. As much as he'd like to insist he would know if he'd started ageing or had met his soulmate, he knew that wasn't quite true; any change in his appearance would be subtle and unlikely to be spotted by himself or anyone else who saw him regularly, and he'd heard and read about plenty of soulmates who never realised they'd actually met.

Well, there was one way to be certain, and he was casting the half-familiar spell before he really thought about it.

Every time he'd ever cast the spell, since he'd learnt it sixty years ago, nothing had happened. But, even though he half expected he'd botched it – it had been well over a decade since the last time he'd checked – he started to glow.

Amelia cleared her throat. "Congratulations, sir," she said, her tone suggesting she wasn't certain it was something to celebrate.

(Tom was rather with her, on that.)

"I hadn't been aware you were seeing anyone," she added once the glow had died away, likely an attempt to fill the heavy silence.

"I'm not," Tom admitted, and his voice cracked, making him wince.

"Ah." Amelia shifted in her seat. "Perhaps we should reschedule?"

Relief rushed through Tom, sharp and unexpected; he was so used to the political dance and the constant attempts to get one over on each other, he sometimes forgot that there were actually people in the ministry who weren't looking to use a second's weakness against him. And he was so, so very grateful that it was one of those people who had spotted his ageing and been in the room when he tested it.

"Thank you, Amelia," he said quietly, and offered her what was, very likely, the most honest smile his office had ever seen. "If you'll speak with Cornelius on your way out, I'm certain he can fit you in later this week."

"I'll do that," Amelia promised as she stood. She had her hand on the doorknob when she turned back, her expression troubled. "Tom, don't sit on this too long, or it may just explode in your face."

Tom straightened his back and nodded. "I'm aware." Because he'd been playing the political games for far too long to believe Amelia was the first person to think he might be ageing.

(Very likely, the current series of Wizengamot meetings and the lack of otherwise newsworthy updates from his office were the only reasons it had yet to break in the papers.)

Amelia inclined her head, then left.

Tom didn't wait long after the door had closed behind her before pulling out a sheet of parchment and one of his quill-sharpening knives. It took him a moment to recall the spell for discovering the name of his soulmate, but he'd always been excellent at retaining knowledge, even spells he'd considered useless trivia when he'd learnt them.

He cast the spell on the parchment, then nicked his finger, squeezing it so sufficient blood would fall to the parchment to spell out the name of his soulmate: Harrison James Snape

He caught himself staring after a moment, healed his finger, then destroyed the parchment. And then he took a walk down to the records room.

He was careful, collecting the books for a wide range of last names, and retreated to his office, casting a dozen spells against spies before cracking open the book Snape would be in.

It didn't take him long, in the end; there were only four Snapes in the records, one dead, and the year of birth next to Harrison's name didn't really surprise him, not after those green eyes had flashed through his mind earlier, but it did win a slightly bitter laugh.

"This," he whispered to the heavy silence of his office, "is going to be a political nightmare."

-0-

Harry had stayed in Hogwarts after his little adventure in Knockturn. If anyone had thought to ask why, he'd probably have said something about how he didn't want to push his luck any further, or that he needed to focus a bit more on his classes and studying for the NEWTs. Both things were even true.

Honestly, though, he didn't really know why he'd stopped. Perhaps being told off by a complete stranger had just soured the fun of sneaking out. Or perhaps he just wasn't certain where he could sneak out to that it wouldn't eventually get back to his mum.

It didn't really matter, either way. He did his studies and helped out in Slytherin and kept his mum happy.

It was about three weeks after his last excursion that the news broke that the Minister for Magic had found his soulmate. Which was great for him – story was he'd been desperately searching for fifty years, which sounded pretty shitty to Harry – and honestly not something Harry would have ever cared about. Except he saw Pansy's paper – she was waving it around and making certain that absolutely everyone had seen; she was perhaps a little too enamoured of their minister – and the photo on the front page was of the very man Harry had met in Knockturn. Just as unnecessarily handsome in black and white as he'd been in colour.

And then, of course, he realised the photo was meant to go with the article Pansy was so excited about. That was the minister. Mr 'You don't know who I am,' himself.

Harry wanted to bury himself in his porridge, because surely that would be less embarrassing than not recognising the minister. No wonder he'd asked about Harry's age.

"I wonder who it is," Pansy was saying. "I would kill to be the witch on his arm."

"Say that a little louder, Pansy," Blaise said drily. "I think a couple of professors mightn't have heard you plotting murder."

Pansy sniffed and turned up her nose at him.

Harry felt somewhat suddenly cold as he connected 'the minister isn't saying who his soulmate is' to 'I met the minister for the first time three weeks ago'.

Could he be the minister's soulmate? Could the minister be his soulmate?

Harry suspected he might be about to throw up.

Still, he'd been in Slytherin long enough to know better than to leave right away, and he knew how to silently vanish his food, so none of his housemates would think to wonder at why he'd stopped eating.

He wasn't the first to leave the table, wasn't even in the first five, and he forced himself to walk at a leisurely pace all the way to the nearest toilet. There, he walked into one of the stalls, locked the door, and cast the soulmate revealing spell on himself.

He glowed.

"Slytherin protect me," Harry whispered, and then he started laughing, just a bit, as he recalled that Minister Riddle-Gaunt was purportedly descended from Salazar Slytherin.

Assuming the minister was his soulmate. It could just as easily been someone he'd met in the Leaky.

There wasn't a great deal of space in the stall, but Harry had been intending to go straight to the library for his free period, and stopping back past the dorm was out of the way, so he'd brought his bag with him. Which meant he had parchment and his sharpening knife.

The name that wrote itself in his blood wasn't actually a surprise, not after everything else that morning, but Harry's smile still felt sad as he stared down at the name Tom Marvolo Riddle-Gaunt.

He was halfway to the dungeons before he realised he was moving, and he stopped on the stairs, trying to figure out where he'd thought to go.

"Harry?" his mum called from behind him.

And, just like that, he knew exactly where his feet had been trying to take him, and he turned to look at Lily with an expression he desperately hoped wasn't as shattered as he felt. "Mum, can we talk?"

"Of course, sweetie," she said, almost immediately wrapping her arm around him and ushering him down the stairs and through the darkened corridors to her office.

Harry was shortly settled comfortably in one of the visitor's chairs, with the container of chocolate biscuits Lily always kept in her desk for emergencies open and in easy reach for him. Lily hadn't taken her usual seat on the other side of the desk – she rarely did when Harry wasn't in trouble – instead turning the other guest chair so she was facing him, her face twisted with concern and love. "What's wrong, baby?" she asked, gentle and so very kind.

Harry wrinkled his nose at the 'baby', as he'd been doing since he was old enough to think himself too old for such, and forced himself to take a breath, then said, "I found my soulmate."

"Congratulations!" Lily exclaimed, catching both of his hands in hers.

The crinkling of parchment reminded Harry that he was still holding the parchment with his soulmate's name on it in one hand. He shook her grip free and held it out to her.

Frowning, Lily took the parchment, smoothing it out a bit so she could read it. She held perfectly still for a moment that seemed to take an eternity, her eyes slowly widening.

And then her eyes snapped up to him and she demanded, "Harrison James, when did you have the chance to meet the minister?"

Harry choked out a slightly terrified laugh, because leave it to his mum to go immediately to his rule-breaking. "I, uh, I'd ruther not say?"

"Detention."

"Mum, come on."

"Tonight, seven o'clock," Lily continued, clearly content to ignore Harry's whining. "You'll meet me in the entrance hall. Dress warm."

Harry groaned, because it wasn't the first time she'd dragged a student out to the Forbidden Forest with her while she collected one rare ingredient or another. Still, he knew there was nothing he could say against it, and at least she hadn't taken any points, so he muttered, "Yeah, okay."

"Now, scat. And take a biscuit."

Harry shook his head, because his mum was the only person he knew who would punish him with detention, then shove chocolate down his throat.

(Actually, no. He suspected Molly Weasley or Alice Longbottom might do a similar sort of punishment with sweets thing, though he'd never had occasion to find out.)

He did indeed take the biscuit – the only time he'd refused, the biscuit had followed him out of her office and kept knocking against his head until he gave in and ate it – and fled to the library, hoping he could get his mind to focus on something other than the minister or his coming detention.

He didn't have much luck.

-0-

In all honesty, when he'd made the announcement to the press shortly after looking his soulmate up – Amelia had been correct in saying that he needed to handle that with all speed, though he intended to sit on the who as long as Mr Snape would let him – the last thing he'd expected was to receive a letter from Lily Snape partway through the following morning. Delivered by house-elf, no less, which suggested a level of cunning and forethought that, he had to admit, he hadn't really expected of someone whose son had decided to visit Knockturn while he should have been in school.

She requested a private audience that evening, which Tom suspected he was best served agreeing to. So it was that, instead of retreating to the familiar grunginess of Knockturn after a rough day of smiling for the cameras and dodging too-personal questions, he had dinner in the echoing dining room of the minister's manor, then waited in the receiving room for his guest. He very rarely opened the floo, and a tiny part of him panicked, just a bit, that he'd got the time wrong; a fine way to end his evening, having caused a floo incident with his soulmate's mother.

But his vague panic was for naught, as just over five minutes after he'd opened the floo, a rather stunning woman with long red hair and the same brilliantly green eyes as his soulmate stepped through the flames. "Mrs Snape," he greeted her.

She smiled and very pointedly stepped aside, leaving room for Tom's soulmate to come through. The young man looked like he should rather be anywhere but the minister's cold manor, a sense Tom fully appreciated. "Minister," he whispered, ducking his head.

Embarrassment, Tom thought, looked rather fetching on his soulmate. Which was something of an unusual thought for him; he usually felt smug at seeing other people's embarrassment, not fond. He chalked it up to some mystical nonsense related to them being soulmates and put on one of his kinder smiles. "Mr Snape."

They suffered a slightly awkward silence – Tom couldn't begin to guess how to approach matters, his soulmate was clearly too embarrassed to speak, and Mrs Snape seemed content to just watch them – which was broken by Dipdy, Tom's personal house-elf – most of the ones staffing the manor actually belonged to the estate, rather than the minister housed within – who popped in next to him, curtsied, and said, "Dipdy has set out tea for Master and guests."

"Thank you, Dipdy," Tom murmured, and she popped away. To the Snapes, he said, "You may hang your cloaks on the rack here, then follow me," then turned and, once they had both hung up their outdoor wear – revealing teaching robes for Mrs Snape and a Slytherin House uniform for his soulmate, which Tom very carefully didn't react to – led the way to the smaller sitting room.

The smaller sitting room hadn't seen much use since Tom moved in, as most of his smaller meetings were better served being held in public with anti-eavesdropping spells, or in his office at the ministry. When he invited guests to the minister's manor, it was almost always a group of people, and the larger sitting room or the ballroom were the better choices. They both looked far richer, with bold colours and the constant shine of silver and gold, intended to impress delegations or donors, Tom had always assumed; that was certainly what he tended to use them for.

The smaller sitting room, by contrast, was done in duller shades, with softer lighting and only the bronze of the fixtures to hint at any wealth. Tom had never been particularly impressed with the room, but, he realised as they all settled around the coffee table with the tea things, the room seemed to have been made for his soulmate, whose complexion – rather darker than either his mother or Tom's – seemed well suited to the colours.

"I admit," Tom said, once it became clear that he would have to start any conversation, "that this is something of an unexpected development."

His soulmate let out a quiet snort, likely believing Tom's word choice was too mild.

"I can only imagine," Mrs Snape said, her voice rather dry. "And what, may I ask, are you intending to do with my son, Minister?"

"Mum," his soulmate complained, covering his face with one hand.

Tom met the piercing stare focussed on him without flinching; he'd spent far too many years in the political arena to baulk at facing down someone's mother. "If you're implying I might infringe on his honour is some way, Mrs Snape, I assure you that I have no such intentions."

"Reassuring, but not what I meant," Mrs Snape returned, a sharp edge to her voice that Tom was a little impressed by. "You've been a politician longer than Harry's been alive; where's our assurance that you won't use him in some way to further your own gains?"

"Do you believe my political stance on such rocky footing that I might need a student to better it?" Tom asked in as mild a voice as he could manage. The nerve of the woman!

"Oh, I think we both know your approval rating is bought."

"I would have preferred the detention," his soulmate announced before Tom forgot himself and actually pulled out his wand; it had been decades since someone had attacked him so directly. (Even Dumbledore and other politicians at least had the sense to sugar-coat their insults.)

"Give me your bracelet," the young man demanded, holding out a hand to Tom. There was a sharp intelligence in his eyes, Tom saw for the first time, like he was, perhaps, not quite so daft as his actions the night they'd met had suggested; perhaps the house crest emblazoned on his chest wasn't quite as improbable as Tom had half been thinking.

"Bracelet?" Mrs Snape asked, her confusion softening the sharpness of her voice.

Tom, for his part, weighed his options for a moment – he always had ways around the magical objects he wore, so they couldn't be used against him, but pointing that out would likely be opposite to his soulmate's intentions – then called, "Dipdy, bring my truth charm." Because he hadn't, in fact, intended to use it while meeting with Mrs Snape.

It took but a second for Dipdy to bring it, and Tom motioned for her to give it to his soulmate, which she did after only a brief hesitation.

"I just have to touch you, right?" his soulmate asked as he slipped the bracelet on. "And then you'll be compelled to tell the truth?"

"Essentially," Tom agreed with a shrug he forced to be careless. And then, for reasons he couldn't quite articulate, he added, "I will, however, only be compelled to answer the wearer truthfully."

"Suits me," he soulmate said before Mrs Snape could do more than open her mouth, likely intending to insist she be the one to wear it. And then he leant forward, holding his hand out over the tea things, the bracelet's dull gleam looking so much brighter than Tom was used to against his darker skin.

Tom made a show of hesitating, if only because it would lend to the fiction that he couldn't resist the charms, then reached out and took his soulmate's hand.

The truth compulsion closed in around him, slipping easily past his mental defences, as he'd made it to do, so even other occlumens wouldn't notice it sneaking in; most of the people he spoke with, after all, had at least some sort of mental barriers. He had three different ways to banish the compulsion, but he found himself leaving it be, instead focussing on the brilliantly green eyes across from him, and the warm hand still holding his.

It wasn't like him to so blindly trust, nor to allow so constant a contact, and yet he seemed to be breaking personal rules left and right when it came to his soulmate. Disconcerting.

"Are you likely to use me to further your own ambitions?" his soulmate asked.

That was...a rather clever way of putting the question, and rather Slytherin, besides. "Only with your consent," Tom said, because that seemed fair, to him, and gave them both some wiggle room.

His soulmate's mouth quirked, like he knew exactly what Tom was thinking. "Are you intending to announce who I am to the press?"

"Again, with your consent," Tom replied. "However, the longer it takes, the more likely someone will find out on their own, then attempt to spin it to damage one or both of us."

His soulmate's expression made it clear he'd expected something of the sort, though his mother let out a quiet curse. "Any other burning questions, Mum?" Mr Snape asked, turning to look at Mrs Snape.

Tom couldn't see his soulmate's expression, but the twist of Mrs Snape's mouth made it clear he was doing something that made her sour. Still, she did say, "No," and didn't follow that up with any glares at Tom, which was perhaps a little bit of a surprise.

And then Tom was being pinned with his soulmate's sharply intelligent stare again. "And you, Mr Snape?" he had to ask, because he hadn't let go yet.

"Yeah," his soulmate said, his chin raising just the slightest, the same as he'd done when Tom had commented that he hadn't fled after finding out about the truth compulsion. "Does the age difference bug you?"

Tom could make a pretty good guess what had spawned that question. The truth was, of course, complicated, because a part of him was uncomfortable with the age difference, but the age of consent for soulmates in the United Kingdom was sixteen, despite the genders or any relevant positions of authority, and Tom had largely resigned himself to sleeping with people who looked younger than he felt when he was in his thirties.

The truth compulsion allowed him to get away with, "Only in that you're still a student," which was simpler than trying to get into the full back-and-forth of the matter.

His soulmate nodded, then let go of Tom's hand, at last – Tom tried very hard not to notice how suddenly cool his hand felt – and took off the truth charm, which he tossed to Tom.

Tom caught the bracelet and slipped it into his pocket, where he wouldn't accidentally end up using it, but it could be easily retrieved, should Mrs Snape require further proof of his honestly. "Was there anything else?" he asked as he picked up his cup of tea, letting the heat of it warm his too-cool hand.

"If it's best done sooner, we may as well discuss how to break news of who I am to the press," Mr Snape said somewhat drily, before casting a tired look at his mother. "And Dad, Uncle Sirius, and Uncle Remus."

Mrs Snape sighed. "Remus should take it fine, if you want to write him a note, and we can probably leave filling Sirius in to him. I'll talk to your father tonight."

"Sirius Black?" Tom asked; many of his soulmates comments during their first meeting certainly made a bit more sense if he knew one of the most talented aurors of the United Kingdom. Too, given Auror Black's long history of misbehaviour, his trip to Knockturn when he should have been safely tucked away in Hogwarts made more sense.

"Yeah. I take it you're familiar with him?" Mr Snape said, the turn of his mouth wry.

"Indeed," Tom agreed, because he was indeed familiar with the white sheep of the Black family; the eldest son of one of the purist families who supported Tom, but publicly against them and everything they stood for, including Tom himself. "I'll have to warn Madam Bones that he may be...difficult."

"I certainly hope he doesn't start acting like a child over this," Mrs Snape said, a sharpness to her tone that made Mr Snape wince. "I really don't see what your father ever saw in him."

Mr Snape just let out a quiet sigh, like he was plenty familiar with that rant.

As much as a part of Tom wanted to chase after that, find out a bit more about his soulmate's extended family – he certainly hadn't been aware of Auror Black being friendly with any Snapes, but the aurors were hardly the members of the ministry he felt the need to keep tabs on – they did need to sort out the formal announcement. And Mr Snape, at least, would eventually be missed.

It didn't take them long to hash matters out. In truth, it would largely be up to Tom to manage everything, as he was the one in the public eye. Mrs Snape would be casting wards around her family to return hate mail to their sender, so Mr Snape should be well protected from the majority of the fallout.

"Honestly," Mr Snape had said with a shrug that seemed a little too careless, to Tom, "the only fallout I'm worried about is Ginny. Which, actually, related to that, can we wait a day? She'll kill me if she finds out from the papers."

If the little fool got himself cursed by jealous students because he was careless with his own safety, on his own head be it. Tom was washing his hands of the whole mess.

(At least until after his soulmate had learnt his lesson. Whereupon, Tom would have to swoop in and clean things up; at least it would help his image.)

Still, decision to be involved in his soulmate's school life or no, Tom couldn't quite stop from holding him back at the floo, letting Mrs Snape go on ahead and leaving them alone for the first time in almost a month.

"Minister?" his soulmate asked, his voice just a little uncertain.

"Tom," he heard himself say, and couldn't quite find it within himself to regret it when those brilliantly green eyes peered up at him. "I do believe you, of all people, have the right to use my first name."

His soulmate's smile was small and edged in uncertainty, but it was one of the most honest ones Tom had seen in weeks. "I suppose you'll have to call me Harry, then."

"It seems so," Tom agreed, hoped he didn't sound nearly as uncertain as he felt; he didn't do relationships, had never done this particular dance over what to call each other. Or, for that matter, how to give gifts, so he cleared his throat and pressed his truth bracelet into his soulmate's hand. "I expect you'll find this...useful."

Mr Snape looked down, then immediately back up at Tom, his eyes wide. "I can't accept this!" he insisted, holding it back out to Tom. "You'll need it!"

"It's hardly the only one I have," Tom returned, even though it actually sort of was. (It wasn't as though he couldn't make a replacement, however. It would almost certainly mean getting in late to the ministry in the morning, but it was doable.) "Take it."

"I–"

"Harry, please," Tom said, taking care to use the nickname his soulmate had specified and putting just the slightest hint of pleading in his voice.

There was, again, that gleam of intelligence peering out at him from behind brilliantly green eyes, and Tom felt disconcertingly like he was being seen straight through. As though his soulmate could see that a part of him honestly was worried for his safety; he had served his time under Hogwarts' towers – had at times been the best known, and the least loved – and the ability to tell exactly who his true allies were had served him far better than the protections of the professors or his being the Heir of Slytherin.

"Thank you," his soulmate said at last, and slipped the bracelet away in a pocket. And then, with only a brief show of hesitation, he leant up and pressed a kiss to Tom's cheek. "Goodbye for now, Tom," he said, before hurriedly grabbing a pinch of floo power and vanishing after his mother.

Tom reached up and pressed a hand to his cheek, feeling a little confused and maybe a little charmed.

"Well," he told the empty fireplace, "that's unexpected."

And then he closed the floo and went to see about making himself a replacement truth charm.

-0-

Despite his careless attitude in front of his mother and the minister, Harry was far from unaware of how much danger he could be in when he was announced as the minister's soulmate. He had, after all, put up with Pansy and her infatuation for five and a half years – it would have been six, but Dumbledore had foolishly hired Gilderoy Lockhart for their second year, and Pansy had been one of the besotted ones – and heard plenty of her plots to take out the minister's soulmate, should he ever find them.

So, while he did indeed warn Ginny – she really would unleash hell on him if he didn't – he also sat down with those he trusted in all of the houses – the thing about being raised by both Gryffindors and Slytherins, was he'd never really bought in to the whole 'we mustn't be friends with members of other houses' nonsense, and he'd started Hogwarts with friends who got sorted into each of the houses – and felt them out, then shared the truth with those he trusted wouldn't go spreading it about early, and asked them to help keep their housemates in line.

(The bracelet the minister had given him actually ended up making things far easier than he'd anticipated; he'd have to come up with a suitable thank you. Somehow.)

For Pansy, he pulled both Draco and Blaise aside, as Draco was the closest thing she had to a best friend, while Blaise was her long-suffering soulmate. (Harry felt for him. He really did.)

Draco, the arse, patted Harry's shoulder once he'd finished explaining and said, "I'll say something nice at your funeral."

"I'll haunt you forever," was Harry's retort.

Draco, probably on reflex, immediately covered his perfect hair with both hands.

Blaise outright cackled – Harry was far from the only one in their dorm who took joy in messing up Draco's hair, he was just the one who'd started it and usually took the blame – then promised, "I'll see if I can't break the news to her tonight. With my wand out, in case she needs to spend a couple of nights in the infirmary."

"Thank you," Harry replied, honestly grateful.

Blaise offered him a smile that was crooked. "Don't get me wrong, Snape; I'm not doing this for you."

"We'd be lucky if the minister only killed her for attacking you," Draco agreed, voice low and serious in a way he rarely bothered with.

Harry frowned between them. "Explain that."

They traded uncertain looks.

Harry had already discovered that his bracelet only compelled people to tell the truth, and those who were occlumens had some defences against it – he blamed already having had a bit of his drink on why he hadn't been able to resist in the pub – so while he'd already touched his dormmates to activate the spell, he wasn't really surprised they weren't immediately telling him whatever it was they knew about the minister that was spooking them.

So he resorted to pulling out his wand and locking the door with a click that was almost too loud in the empty dungeon classroom, then cast one of the auror-level privacy wards Sirius had taught him over the summer. "If one of you two doesn't start talking right now..." he warned.

"You know all the old families support him, even though he's not properly against mudbloods?" Draco asked, not waiting for Harry to finish his threat; Harry had trained him well.

Harry grimaced at the slur, but nodded; he'd been living with purists long enough to resign himself to hearing that particular word. "Sure. But that's because everyone who's ever run against him is pro-muggles. Right?"

Blaise and Draco traded a look again; Harry might have to curse them if they did it a third time.

"This is mostly speculation," Draco warned, his expression open and pleading in a way that he'd only allow around select few people, of which Harry was markedly proud to be a member. "But I've overheard Father calling him the dark lord a couple of times."

Harry raised an eyebrow, more intrigued than disbelieving; if the minister called himself a dark lord in private, that would explain why so many of the purist families continued to support him, even with his pro-muggleborn politics.

"Theo, his grandfather went to school with the minister," Blaise added, referencing one of their other dormmates, Theodore Nott, Jr, who had always been required to keep a distance between himself and Harry because of Lily's blood status, "and he often talks about a dark lord who will bring back the old ways and banish the muggles and mudbloods back to the pits they came from."

"Charming."

Blaise offered him a smile that was a little bit apologetic. "Just what I heard, Snape. Don't shoot the messenger."

Harry rolled his eyes. "And you think the minister is the dark lord he's putting his hopes on?"

"I think he'd be supporting someone else in the political arena if it wasn't."

Harry nodded, because that was a good point; Thaddeus Nott wasn't known for his patience or charity, and if he was supporting the minister, there had to be a damn good reason. So either Riddle-Gaunt was the one Nott was calling a dark lord, or he was somehow paving the way for them. And, given how against associating with 'dirty blood' the Nott family was and the minister's own muggle father, it was far more likely that the minister was Nott's dark lord.

"Maybe I'll ask him," Harry said, just for the horrified looks Draco and Blaise turned on him. "He's my soulmate; I'm going to end up involved somehow."

"Fair point," Blaise allowed.

"Maybe you should ask him sooner, rather than later," Draco added, casting a quick worried look towards the warded door. "If he is aspiring to be the next dark lord, we may find allegiances changing."

In other words, those members of the purist families who refused or simply weren't allowed to associate with Harry would very quickly be offering their hands in friendship. As would any and every other person in the school who thought he might provide an in with the minister. Those Harry had already been anticipating, but he should really know if he should be expecting purist alliances, as well.

"Can you sneak out tonight?" Draco asked. "I know you usually bribe Greg and Vince, but–"

"Oh no," Blaise said before Draco could finish. "I'm not going to play chicken with Professor Snape, no way. Especially not on top of Pansy."

Harry snickered, because it was hard not to enjoy how much his mum spooked even the students who mocked her because of her blood. Though, given her temper gave him pause, too, and he really didn't want to have to deal with the fallout from Pansy, he agreed, "Fair point. You're excused."

Draco snorted. "Well, I'm not doing it alone. No offence, Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'll catch Vince and Greg, get some chocolate for them on my way back."

"Or bribe the house elves when you get caught."

"No harm having a backup plan."

"Goodbye, House Cup," Draco said in his most overly dramatic wail. "For so long did we know you, alas, alas..."

"There's a word for people like you," Blaise informed him, while Harry brought down his wards, because when Draco started with the over the top drama, it was time to leave. If only so he didn't chance busting something due to the inevitable laughing fit.

"Yes, I know. I am a master," Draco announced, throwing his arms wide.

Harry made his escape before Blaise could figure out a proper response for that.

.

Chapter Text

Really, Tom wasn't all that surprised that his soulmate would show back up at the Knockturn pub, but he had expected it to take a couple of days, not be on the night after the Snapes visited the manor. "Shouldn't you be in school?" he asked as Mr Snape motioned for a drink.

Those brilliant green eyes turned towards him, not the least dimmed by the dark lighting of the pub. "I had some questions for you," his soulmate said, low and serious in a way that Tom was admittedly a little surprised by.

He really needed to stop being surprised by someone who was supposedly the perfect match to his own soul.

"Questions," he murmured into his glass. "What sort of questions?"

Mr Snape considered him for a moment, something almost searching in his gaze, and Tom was admittedly a little disappointed when he didn't feel any attempts at legilimency. And then his soulmate quietly asked, "Are you a dark lord?"

And again with the being surprised. Though, really, he was in Slytherin; of course there was a chance that he'd hear about Tom's darker dealings and what certain members of the purist community called him, he just hadn't expected it to come up quite so soon. Certainly not before the public announcement.

"Richard," he ordered the barkeep, "a room key."

Mr Snape didn't drag his feet or make any shows of confusion, just collected his drink and followed Tom up the stairs once he had the requested key. Which Tom appreciated.

It wasn't the first time he'd taken someone upstairs in that pub, nor was it the first time he'd done so without the intention of sleeping together, but it was the first time he felt even vaguely nervous about it. He blamed the inexplicable nerves on why his soulmate was the one to cast privacy wards before settling at the rickety table provided.

"Auror Black," Tom assumed as he looked over the wards, admittedly a little impressed; they were strong, far stronger than he'd have expected of someone who was still a student.

"Uncle Sirius taught me soon as I turned seventeen," Mr Snape agreed flatly. "Said anyone who spends most of their days surrounded by snakes needs to know a good way to protect their secrets."

Tom snorted, familiar enough with that particular anti-Slytherin mentality. "As though snakes are the only ones who creep around on soft feet, listening for blackmail material."

Mr Snape's mouth twitched, like he was resisting the urge to smile, and then he leant back in his chair. "So, you are a dark lord, then. Or called yourself one at some point."

Clearly, there would be no beating around the bush; a part of Tom appreciated that, even if another part of him rather enjoyed the word games that were so natural to him after decades in politics. "I had, at one time, aspirations towards replacing Grindelwald, yes. However, seventeen year olds aren't particularly threatening, and that clearly wasn't something that was intended to change with any speed. So I turned my eye to the more legal route of changing the world."

Mr Snape nodded, his expression gone a little distant. "I suppose it would be difficult to effectively lead a crowd of older purists when you're trapped in the body of a teenager," he agreed, and then his eyes narrowed on Tom. "I know the purist agenda, and I've heard your original policies; where do you actually stand on muggleborns?"

Tom watched him for a long moment, intrigued and regretting, just a little, that he hadn't done a more extensive search into his soulmate's background. He suspected that 'Snape' was originally a muggle surname, given the limited number of them in the records, but that was really all he'd dared to find out, lest he lead anyone to suspect why he was looking into a student's family. His mother was evidently a teacher at Hogwarts, and very likely a Gryffindor, given her attack on him in his home. And, based on her comment about the elder Snape's friendship with Auror Black, he had to assume the man had also been a Gryffindor, though he could have been in one of the more 'neutral' houses, which would explain how Tom's soulmate had landed in Slytherin.

He leant forward over the table and flashed his soulmate a sharp smile. "Tit for tat, Harry," he said. "You know my story, but I haven't the faintest about yours, save the names of your mother, father, and paternal grandmother, and what I know of Auror Black."

Mr Snape blinked, then tilted his head to the side. "Unexpected, but fair. No doubt, reporters will have personal questions for you; you may as well collect the answers from the source. But I asked first, so..." He motioned for Tom to speak, then took a sip of his drink.

Tom inclined his head and relaxed back into his chair again. "While it is true that I once held nothing but contempt for muggleborns," he said, following his soulmate's example in using the politer term, "my initial election loss did teach me to listen to the populace with less bias. I truthfully find them to be something of a necessary evil, in that I dislike how many muggle ideas they bring into our society. However, without them, we are too few in number. Those willing to fully join wizarding society are more than acceptable, but I detest those who return to muggle society or who attempt to, shall we say, straddle the line between the two. Those are the ones who endanger us, who bring the hatred and poison that all muggles spew back into our society."

Mr Snape's expression remained carefully neutral while Tom spoke, which was something he rather appreciated, even though a part of him should have liked to see how his soulmate truly felt.

After a long silence, Tom done explaining himself, Mr Snape finally said, "My mother is a muggleborn."

"Ah."

Mr Snape shifted, his expression tightening briefly. "I've never met her sister, my aunt, but I've been given to believe that she is either a thoroughly detestable individual, or hurt and misunderstood, depending on whether Dad or Mum are the one speaking about her. However, they both agree that Mum's parents were absolutely lovely, and Dad's father, who was also a muggle, was the absolute worst person in the world; Dad visits his grave on the holidays just to spit on it."

Tom snorted, fully understanding that urge.

Mr Snape sighed. "I'm willing to agree that muggles can be dangerous to us, but I cannot agree that those muggleborns who wish to retain some connection to their muggle origins are detestable."

"They endanger us every time they speak with a muggle!" Tom snarled.

Mr Snape raised an eyebrow at him, clearly unimpressed, and Tom forced himself to sit back and breathe again; clearly, Mrs Snape wasn't the only one in the family capable of testing his temper.

"Mini– Tom," his soulmate murmured after a moment, his voice gentle, "at least when muggleborns deal with muggles, they know how to hide. When most magical people have to interact with the muggle world, they stand out like sore thumbs; if anyone is a danger to us, it's those who cast all manner of impossible spellwork on their tents during the Quidditch World Cup, or go about in robes when most muggles would never think to wear such.

"No matter what the purists or you yourself might think of them, muggles are not stupid," he continued, steel entering his voice, "and we can't continue overusing the obliviate charm to cover our arses. Eventually, they're going to find out, and I guarantee it won't be due to a muggleborn who just wanted to go to their parent's funeral or a sibling's wedding."

Tom had to look away, disgusted with how sensible the boy had made that all sound. He'd spent decades building and living by his beliefs, and this half-witted child thought to come in and try to change all that?

"You're only angry because I'm making sense," Mr Snape said, his voice quiet, but still with an edge of steel.

"How well you must think of yourself, the child of a mudblood and a halfblood," Tom heard himself snarl.

And then he realised what he'd just said and shoved away from the table, standing up and turning away so he could berate his loss of control in private.

"Well," his soulmate said after a long, tense silence. "Thank you for not cursing me, at least."

"Is your whole family this infuriating?" Tom demanded of the wall.

Mr Snape let out a laugh that sounded startled. "Uncle Sirius and Mum, yes, but Uncle Remus and Dad are usually more sensible. Most of the time." He coughed, and Tom heard the sound of fingers drumming against glass. "And Dad, Severus Snape, isn't my birth father."

Tom turned to face him again, his curiosity winning out over his lingering rage. "But your name...?"

Mr Snape offered him a small, slightly sad smile. "Mum's soulmate was James Potter. He's my actual father."

Tom couldn't quite stop a grimace; while he hadn't actually been directly involved in the giant debacle that had resulted in the deaths of six aurors and permanent retirement of three others, he'd still taken the blow to his popularity, and had been required to attend all of the funerals and visit each of the survivors in hospital, which meant he knew every single name. And, because it had been the sort of tragedy that no one else dared to forget, he hadn't allowed himself to forget a one of them.

"Mum married Dad, Severus, because she couldn't cope alone, not with a baby on the way. They were friends in school, and Dad's soulmate had died that night, too, so I guess it made sense to them to weather their loss together. James wanted Uncle Sirius named as my godfather, but him and Dad have never got on, so him and his soulmate, Remus Lupin, are my honorary uncles. Lucius Malfoy and Alice Longbottom are my godparents."

And, just like that, Tom understood how his soulmate had found out about his being referred to as a dark lord by certain members of the purist families; Lucius would never have shared such around him, not when his mother was a muggleborn, but his own son would have either been informed or overheard a few things. If Mr Snape and the little Malfoy had grown up together, they would be, at the least, allies, and willing to share what information might prove beneficial later on.

"The Potter fortune is held in trust for me – my mother decided long before I started Hogwarts that the whole thing should be mine – so I have no need of your wealth; I believe we can expect someone from Witch Weekly to ask that extremely inappropriate question."

"Undoubtably," Tom agreed, finally returning to his former seat. "Doubtless, they'll also want to know your future plans."

"Them, or you?" his soulmate returned, his mouth twitching. "It depends on my NEWTs, to some extent, but I have no intention to be idle. Or, rather," he added in a wry tone, "my parents won't let me be idle; if I don't have the scores to join the aurors, I'll end up apprenticed to my father. He's a master potioneer," he explained, clearly reading Tom's unasked question.

"And a Slytherin, I must assume, given your relation to Lucius."

"Yes. Mum, Uncle Remus, Uncle Sirius, and James were all Gryffindors, as are Alice and her family. And while the Hat did want to put me in Gryffindor, I made the choice to be a Slytherin, in a large part because of some of the things Dad has said over the years. And, I'll admit, to annoy Uncle Sirius. Just a bit."

Tom startled himself with a laugh, and his soulmate grinned in return, wide and entirely too fetching.

"So, no aspirations towards politics, then," Tom asked, mostly to take his mind off the urge to kiss the smile off his soulmate's lips.

"Not particularly," Mr Snape admitted with a shrug. "Beyond our previous discussion, I have little interest in politics, and even that little bit is more for the sake of my mum and those muggleborns I count among my friends."

"And what are your aspirations, Harry?" Tom had to ask, leaning forward over the table slightly.

His soulmate eyed him for a moment, mouth turning with an amused little smile. "I think you're going to have to sort that out on your own, Tom."

Tom chuckled and settled back into his chair. "I do believe I might just enjoy it," he decided; for all that his soulmate was capable of bringing him to a rage with what seemed to be little effort, there was also something almost soothing about him when they weren't at odds. And while Tom should like to convince himself otherwise, it was likely in part due to how often Mr Snape managed to surprise him. "I presume you've shared the truth with all of those you fear might kill you without advance warning?"

Mr Snape shrugged and nodded. "Yes, I filled Ginny in. And, you know, a handful of students who I trust in each of the houses, so they can keep eyes out for any adverse reactions to the news." And there it was again, just like when he'd asked for the truth bracelet, that gleam of intelligence in his eyes, with just a hint, Tom recognised, of challenge.

"Perhaps I won't ready an auror squad, then," Tom returned in as dry a voice as he could muster.

Mr Snape snorted. "Should I be touched, or insulted?"

Tom decided that was rhetorical and asked, "Was there anything else we needed to verify in preparation for tomorrow?"

Mr Snape watched him for a moment with his too-intelligent eyes, before shrugging and looking away. "Not particularly, I should think. I expect to get more death threats or people cosying up to me, than anything else, and if you need more than the basics we've covered about my background, I'm certain you can talk your way out of any holes."

"Your belief in me is truly touching."

He got a wide grin in response to his sarcasm.

Before the silence following that exchange could get awkward, Tom rose. "You should probably get back to Hogwarts."

"Mm, probably," Mr Snape agreed, also rising. He paused while reaching for his drink, though, expression twisting with uncertainty. "Ah. How did we meet? I mean, it's not really a secret I've been sneaking out this year, but so far as anyone at the school is concerned, I haven't gone past Hogsmeade."

Tom considered that for a moment, especially the implications that his soulmate had never snuck out before this year and that he'd snuck out to see someone in London the night they met. He didn't care for the flare of jealousy that accompanied the obvious assumption – a lover or crush (more likely, given the nameplate from the singles' mixer) who had been in the year above him – and forced himself to focus on the more important task of coming up with a meeting place that was less damning than Knockturn Alley. "It has been quite some years, but I've been known to frequent the Hog's Head on some evenings."

Mr Snape frowned and ran a hand through his hair, upsetting it in a manner that was slightly distracting. "Abe knows me, though. I might be able to talk him into covering for us, but he'll want something in return."

Tom raised an eyebrow at that; he knew who the owner of the Hog's Head was, and that he'd been in Slytherin well before Tom's own time, but he'd never been on good enough terms with him to think he might cover for him about anything. (If he was honest, that was at least partially because of who his brother was.) "If necessary, his liquor licence can get waved through when it's next up for renewal without him needing to pay any fees."

Mr Snape raise his own eyebrow. "I'll pass that on, then let you know."

"Of course."

With that sorted, they collected their drinks and quit the room, returning to the bar, where Tom returned the key and his soulmate left his glass after draining the last of it.

"Good night, Tom," Mr Snape murmured before kissing his cheek again.

He was gone before it occurred to Tom that he should probably respond; he really needed to stop doing that.

-0-

The special edition of The Daily Prophet arrived in the middle of lunch, and it was an honest struggle for Harry to keep his back straight and his expression even as an unusual silence fell over the room; the sign of everyone in attendance reading either their own copy, or that of a friend.

As much as he wanted to get a look at the article himself, he knew he was best off pretending not to care, or at least that he already knew what it said. (Draco had given him a hard time over not demanding a preview of the article, but it wasn't like Harry didn't already know what the minister would cover, and while his soulmate might have sufficient political power to go demanding advance print copies, he didn't. Anyway, he knew he could steal Draco's copy of the paper and read it in the loo before their next class.)

He had talked to Aberforth on his way back to the school, and he'd been willing to cover for them, for the price of not having to pay his next liquor licence renewal and a picture of his brother's reaction to the news, which Harry had employed his favourite of his family's house-elves, Totty, to take and deliver for him. (It was hardly the first time he'd paid for favours with taking photos of the Headmaster in moments of weakness; training Totty with a camera as a kid for the sake of getting blackmail against Sirius and Draco had served him well.)

Harry strongly suspected Aberforth would have covered for them just for the price of the photo, but since the minister had offered, he figured he might as well do the same. Anyway, the less anyone knew about the transactions he made via embarrassing photos, the better for everyone; he didn't expect letting the minister know he could take pictures of people in compromising or embarrassing positions was likely to end well.

As people started talking again, Harry cast a glance at his mum and received a faint nod; the minister hadn't said anything too offensive about their family, then, and Harry wasn't in any more trouble than he had already been for sneaking out and meeting his soulmate the first time.

Headmaster Dumbledore, Harry noticed as he turned away from the head table, was watching him with what looked suspiciously like a speculative gleam in his eyes. Harry forced himself not to react and promised himself he'd look at his copies of the photos Totty took as soon as possible; Severus had taught him a long time ago to never trust the headmaster, despite what the rest of the family might say, and six and a half years in Slytherin had taught him his father was right to say so. (Dumbledore might act gentle and kind, but everyone in Slytherin knew he'd sooner feed their entire house to the wolves to save any one student in another house, especially if it was a Gryffindor.)

Pansy had not, in fact, ended up needing to spend a couple of days in the infirmary. They'd barely spoken all day – not particularly uncommon; her fathers may not have put a moratorium on her spending time with him, but her distance was largely due to his mum's blood status – but as soon as he stood, Draco's copy of the paper slipped away in his bag, Pansy stood and joined him, slipping her arm through his and holding tight enough, it was clear he wouldn't be shaking her loose without causing a scene.

"To what," Harry murmured as they started walking towards the doors of the great hall, Draco and Blaise notably remaining in their seats; he was on his own, "do I owe the dubious honour of your presence?"

"Are you implying we're not friends, Harrison?" she returned, and the way she said his name, he thought, made it perfectly clear that they weren't friends.

In response, he simply raised an eyebrow at her.

She huffed and, once they had started up the staircase, well away from the other few students who had looked like they'd rather be monopolising Harry's time, informed him, "Perhaps it's time to rectify that oversight."

Harry took a moment to count the steps as they climbed them, biting back the first two responses that came to him. Finally, he stopped at the landing to the next floor, cast an unimpressed eye over the nearest paintings, who were very obviously pretending to not be listening, then turned to her and said, "I spent two years trying to be your friend, for Draco's sake, until you tried to push me down these very stairs." He motioned down the staircase they'd just climbed, and she looked away. "You know how to make amends," he reminded her, because they were both Slytherins, and shame on her for forgetting that you didn't get anything for free.

So saying, he pulled his arm from her grip, then continued up to the second floor, where he retreated to the nearest loo and settled in to read the article.

There were no surprises waiting for him in the paper, thankfully, and while there had certainly been some questions about the suitability of a relationship between the minister and himself, given the age gap, the minister had insisted that it was Harry's choice whether or not to pursue a relationship after finishing Hogwarts. Which meant Harry should expect questions about whether or not he thought the minister was hot, or whatever ridiculous standard people thought was most important to determine whether or not someone was worth dating. Easy enough to dissuade, given his history of relatively high grades. (He'd never cared enough to fight Hermione Granger and Draco for the honour of being top of their year, but he'd always fallen within the top five, and had racked up more than enough time in the library to prove he cared more about studying than relationships.)

Finished with the only article he particularly cared about, he slipped the paper back into his bag, then went to join his classmates outside the charms classroom. While he'd usually sit with Neville – who had once been as close to a best friend as Draco, before their sorting – he knew he'd get more peace with the Slytherins, and Neville's wry smile as he settled in next to Draco said he understood. Doubtless, he'd already had to listen to Ron's grumbling, or Lavender Brown's complaining about how it wasn't fair that she wasn't the minister's soulmate – Harry had it on good authority that she was just as obsessed as Pansy.

Professor Flitwick, bless him, didn't say anything about Harry's soulmate, and he politely told off Brown when she started to talk a little too loud about the article.

While Harry usually would have retreated to the library after charms, having got used to getting his homework done as soon as he received it with Hermione and a couple of other students who didn't mind working with students from other houses, he instead retreated to the Slytherin common room. In part to avoid any questions, which he could only assume the rest of the school would believe his reason to be. But, too, he knew he needed to be on hand for his housemates. Some would have questions, some would want to sort out new alliances, and others would simply wish to watch him.

By the time they left for dinner, Harry was on speaking terms with about half of the children whose parents had told them to avoid Harry because of his mum, and had eased the concerns of a number of the younger years, who hadn't known exactly how much or what they should say to non-Slytherins.

After dinner, he met up with those students in other houses he'd asked to keep an eye on their housemate's responses. There were the expected few students who, like Pansy and Brown, had a massive crush on the minister and were none-too-pleased about a 'slimy Slytherin' – or, for a couple, a male – being his soulmate. A sixth year Hufflepuff boy and a fourth year Gryffindor girl had both needed to be hexed and sent to the infirmary, where Madam Pomfrey knew to talk them down once they were sorted out, but everyone else was handled without wands needing to be drawn. There were a couple of students who they would be keeping eyes on – while Slytherins were the most widely accepted to bide their time and wait for his guard to go down before attacking, Harry had learnt early on that house didn't matter when it came to that particular attack plan – but, all things considered, everything had gone much smoother than Harry had anticipated.

He remained on his guard for the next month, even going so far as to remain with at least one other student he trusted at all times – not hard, as he and Draco had pretty much the exact same schedule, save herbology, which Harry shared with Neville and Hermione – but no one made any attempts on his life. If anything, the amount of hostility he faced had gone down, in large part due to the children of the least accepting purist families finally being allowed to talk to him, but also because a number of students, especially those intending to find jobs in the ministry after Hogwarts, were attempting to make friendly with him.

While Harry accepted the truce from the purist students, and Pansy and he eventually reached an uneasy (at least on his part; it was hard to fully trust someone who had tried to kill him and he knew still had an eye on his soulmate) alliance, he held very firm about not allowing himself to be an easy path to his soulmate.

"We've spoken twice," he informed Ron after the third or so time he'd tried to get Harry to put in a good word for him. "I haven't had anything to do with him in near a month, and I don't expect to do until summer. If you really want into the aurors that bad, you should be pestering one of the Boneses, anyway; it's one of them what's in charge of that lot, not the minister."

"Anyway, Weasel," Draco added with his classic nose-in-the-air pose, "it's not like you haven't got your own lines in the ministry. Or has your father finally got the boot he so deserves?"

Harry very firmly pulled Draco away before Ron managed to get his wand out.

Honestly, with so much of the school's eyes on him, he hadn't bothered to do any sneaking out, save going past the twins' shop the first weekend, in an attempt to keep them from coming to the school and giving him hell in front of witnesses. (They had, in fact, given him hell, then got the true story of his first meeting out of him, mostly because they knew he'd been in Diagon at some point before the announcement.)

He'd settled himself to not seeing his soulmate until spring break, at the earliest, but probably not until that summer, and turned his focus back to his studies, doubly important with the looming NEWTs.

He didn't hear anything from the minister before or during spring break, and he'd ended up spending most of it studying with Hermione and those other students in their inter-house study group who didn't bother with going home for the week, anyway, so he was hardly fussed. (He also knew, from the paper, that his soulmate was in talks with the French and Turkish magical leaders regarding an incident that took place over the English Channel, involving some Turkish nationals; clearly, he had more important things to worry about than Harry.)

And so, colour him surprised when, not long after breakfast on the day of the final Hogsmeade trip of the year, one of the younger year Slytherins raced into the library (where most of the seventh and fifth years were bent over books), ignored Madam Pince's warning glare, and nearly crashed straight into Harry. (Probably would have crashed, actually, except Vince had grabbed the back of her robes; he'd been taking one of his regular breaks to rest his eyes and happened to be in range.)

"Snape!" the girl said, and was promptly hushed by at least half the library. Harry, for his part, just shot her a tired look. "The minister's in Hogsmeade!"

There was a long moment of silence, not even the sound of a single page being turned, and then people all over the library were getting up, whispering about how they could probably take a short break.

"Why?" Harry asked no one in particular, because Pansy had already stolen the messenger to get the specifics out of.

"Might as well go down and find it out in person," Theo said, even as he capped his ink and cast a drying charm on the essay he'd been in the middle of writing.

When Draco very pointedly tugged on his arm, Harry gave in to the inevitable and put away those things he daren't leave behind, then collected his bag and joined the exodus from the library.

The minister was, indeed, in Hogsmeade, attended by a few aurors – not Sirius, thankfully; he'd agreed to not be an arsehole to the minister, but he'd made it clear that the man being Harry's soulmate didn't change how much he disliked him – and talking to a couple of students. There were also reporters in attendance, and Harry sincerely hoped his soulmate wasn't intending this to be some sort of pretty and perfect photo op, because while he hardly looked sloppy – Draco had cast a few charms on him on the way from the castle – he had been fully intending to spend most of the day in the library, not smiling for the press.

The reporters clearly saw him first, for they all straightened and Harry and his yearmates – the fifth years had all gone ahead or trailed well behind – were suddenly the focus of almost a dozen cameras.

"Aren't you glad I fixed you up, now?" Draco whispered from behind his perfectly cultivated public smile.

Harry did his best to resist a sigh, mostly because it would ruin his own public smile.

And then the minister looked up, straight at Harry, and smiled. And he was...so unfairly gorgeous. When the wind tousled his hair, it didn't end up looking at all like a bird's nest, for one, and the silver edging of his deep green robes sparkled in the sunlight, which really caught the eye. As if he needed the help.

Harry didn't realise he'd stopped to stare until someone none too gently shoved him in the back.

The students who had been talking to the minister politely moved out of the way of Harry and his fellow seventh years, so the path to his soulmate was a relatively easy one. That said, Harry was wearing his bracelet – he rarely took it off, mostly because the more familiar it became, the less suspicious it would seem – so he stopped a polite distance from the minister and didn't bother with holding out a hand or anything of the sort.

Likewise, neither did the minister. Instead, he said, "Hello, Harry."

"Hi, Tom," he replied, feeling uncomfortably like he was on display. Which, well, he sort of was, but he also wasn't actually used to using his soulmate's name; he'd only ever used his title or his last name with his family and fellow students, because that felt more comfortable. It wasn't like they actually knew each other.

Draco cleared his throat, and Harry realised it would probably be polite to introduce his entourage, which was thankfully made up of those he knew best in his year. "Ah, these are my yearmates: Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, Blaise Zabini, Theo Nott, Vince Crabbe, Greg Goyle, Susan and Mark Bones, Ernie Macmillan, Padma Patil, Hermione Granger, Sally-Anne Perks, and Neville Longbottom."

And then, practically out of nowhere, Ginny popped up next to him, elbowing Draco in the side in the process – on purpose, Harry would bet – and grinned widely at him.

"And this," he added a bit helplessly, even as he pulled Ginny to his other side, out of the way of Draco's retaliation, "is Ginny Weasley, my best friend."

Draco scoffed, but since he'd given up the title of best friend when they started Hogwarts – something about proper Slytherins not having friends; Harry called codswallop – he really couldn't argue it.

The minister raised a single perfect eyebrow. "Miss Weasley, is it?" he said. And then, before Ginny could actually take offence to his tone – Harry knew she would, though she was a little slower to explode than Ron – he told Harry, "At last, the full name of the young woman you mentioned."

Well, that would probably keep the rumour mill going at least to the start of exams, if not through the end of the year; Harry was starting to wish he'd stayed in the library.

The minister must have read something of his displeasure in his expression, because his smile turned slightly apologetic and he said, "I do apologise for interrupting your study time, but I'm afraid your mother insisted I visit for tea."

"Of course she did," Harry muttered. Knowing Lily, it had probably even been partially intended as a way to get Harry out of the library; she'd pulled something similar near the end of his fifth year, making up an emergency to get him to come down to the village on the final Hogsmeade weekend of the year. He turned to Draco and requested, "Clean up my spot when you get back to the library? Knowing Mum, I won't be back to the castle until dinner."

Draco wrinkled his nose in that way that meant he'd be grimacing if they weren't in public, but nodded. "We may as well get some butterbeer while we're here," he told the other students.

While all of the seventh years and a few of the other lingering students took that cue to walk away, Ginny was one of the ones who remained. "Your dad home?" she asked, and Harry knew she was seriously considering crashing the tea.

"I haven't heard about any trips lately," Harry told her honestly. He didn't actually always know when Severus was leaving to hunt down a rare ingredient or attend a lecture or convention of some sort, but Lily usually at least mentioned when he was gone, especially during holidays and Hogsmeade weekends.

Ginny made a face – Severus wasn't naturally good with people, especially children, and Draco was the only one of Harry's friends who could stand to be around him for long – clearly debated for a moment, then sighed and patted his shoulder. "I'll steal one of your mum's tea cakes another day."

"I'll warn her," Harry returned, which they both knew meant she'd probably have some waiting for her back in her dorm after dinner.

Ginny flashed him a smile, then turned to his soulmate, intoned, "Minister," and took her leave, chivvying away the last of the gawkers.

Harry allowed himself a quiet sigh, then offered the minister a small smile. "She's probably not expecting us for at least another half hour."

The minister raised an eyebrow. "Pranks or sweets, then?"

Harry snorted; Fred and George would cry mutiny if he went to Zonko's, and he knew better than to try wading through the crowd in Honeydukes. "I, actually, could use a couple new quills," he admitted, because he had a terrible habit of chewing on the ends of his when he was reading stuff he needed to take notes on, which he'd been doing a lot of the past couple of months, so all of his quills were looking rather ratty. He usually resorted to stealing one of Draco's excess of spares, or begging one or two off of his mum when they got to the point where he was embarrassed to use them in class, but since he was in Hogsmeade anyway...

"Scrivenshaft's it is," the minister agreed, then motioned for Harry to take the lead.

The auror escort was slightly distracting, but he wasn't unused to Sirius prowling around and keeping his head on a swivel when he was feeling unsettled in a public space, and the crowd of reporters that was trying to follow them was far more of a nuisance.

Only one auror actually followed them into Scrivenshaft's – Kingsley Shacklebolt, who Harry had met a couple of times because he had mentored Sirius and Draco's cousin, Dora – while the others remained outside and, presumably, kept the press from following them.

"Regrettably," the minister murmured once they'd found a display a bit away from both the windows and the few other patrons in the shop (though not, Harry spotted while his soulmate was talking, away from a particular beetle, who was sitting oh-so-calmly on his own sleeve; the only reason Harry didn't squash her, was he knew Lucius had her in his pocket and would be cross to lose her), "there's not much I can do about the entourage."

Harry shrugged and nodded; he didn't really suppose the minister could go around unprotected on a Hogsmeade weekend, his magical skills notwithstanding, and as soon as he'd requested the guard, it would have got leaked to the press. Who, he knew from the papers and magazines, had been dying to get a good photo and hear more about him ever since the reveal. (Harry had actually, through Ginny, sent in a couple reasonable photos of himself, then split the money with her. Information was harder to control, even when he knew how to guard against the worst snoop in the press, but the people who knew him best weren't likely to betray his trust that way, and everyone else could only share information that was either public record, or mostly harmless speculation.)

Photos of both him and the minister, not to mention what they did on what would likely be noted down as their first date, would be as good as gold.

"Mum'll hex the lot of them if they try getting into the house," he said with a shrug, and resisted shooting a pointed look at the reporter on his sleeve. "She should at least let the aurors inside, though, set them up with their own share of tea and nibbles. Assuming they don't get in her way of hexing anyone."

The minister coughed in just such a way, Harry could only assume he was trying not to laugh. "So long as she doesn't aim at myself, one of them, or, very likely, you, I don't believe they'll care."

"Me?" Harry had to ask, confused. Why would the aurors care if his mum hexed him?

The minister's expression went completely blank. "You're my soulmate," he said, as if that was the obvious answer.

"Yeah, but I'm just a student. And she's my mum, besides."

The minister just sort of stared at him for a moment, his expression impossible to read, before he sighed and closed his eyes. "Just...accept it as one of the dangers of being my soulmate," he suggested in a voice that sounded almost pained.

Harry frowned at that, still not quite understanding exactly what the minister wasn't saying, but resigned himself to not finding out in public, at the least. Instead, he picked up a couple of quills and, at a loss for anything else to say, started talking about the NEWTs.

It must have been close to fifty years since the minister took the NEWTs himself, but he took to the subject change quite easily, and they were debating which potions were most likely to show up on the exams by the time Harry had checked out.

They ended up at Tomes and Scrolls next, the minister insistent that Harry needed to read a particular book in preparation for the transfiguration NEWT, which turned into them debating which book was better for seventh year offensive and defensive magics, since the current professor required a very different one from what the minister had used.

Lily found them sometime later, ruffling Harry's hair and sighing loudly behind him in lieu of announcing herself like a civilised person.

"Mum!" he recognised after jumping a bit in surprise.

"Merlin protect me, there's two of you, now," Lily said, and Harry was a little embarrassed to realise that the minister and he had each amassed a small pile of books to debate about, almost all of them on defensive magic or some of the nastiest legal curses.

The minister cleared his throat. "I'm afraid we may have lost track of time."

"Just slightly," Lily agreed in a tone that was way drier than Harry thought was strictly necessary.

Harry did end up getting the transfiguration book the minister had been pushing on him, because he could use all the help he could get in that class, while the minister bought the defensive magic book Sirius had bought for Harry a couple of years ago, which was probably his absolute most precious book. (In his defence, it had taught him all manner of spells to protect himself from those upper year students who had been in the habit of 'accidentally' hitting him while 'practising' their spellwork in the halls or the common room; it had been Slytherins attacking him because of his mum's blood status as often as Gryffindors who didn't like him because of his house.)

The reporters had all vanished while they'd been in the bookshop, and it was even odds whether they'd got bored with trying to catch peeks or been shooed away by Lily before she'd collected Harry and his soulmate. The beetle on his sleeve was still there, likely delighting in all of the specifics she had that no one else did, but she obediently flew away when Harry subtly shook her off his sleeve once they were outside. (The anti-animagus wards on the house, cast by Severus after one too many times of Sirius-the-dog bounding inside behind Harry and upsetting something, would have kept her out, anyway.) For the aurors, all four walked with them to Harry's house, and while Lily seemed willing to let all of them in, two of them returned to the ministry, leaving Kingsley and Peregrine Derrick, who had been three years ahead of Harry and one of the Slytherin beaters, to guard the minister alone, and both were relatively quick to accept the offer of tea in the office.

Severus was indeed home, standing stiffly in the sitting room when they finally reached him. "Hi, Dad," Harry offered.

"Harrison," his father replied, holding out an arm in the offer of one of his rare hugs. Harry suspected Lily had insisted – whether because they hadn't actually seen each other in months, or because of the guest, only she would know – and didn't bother demurring.

"Minister," Severus added once the hug was out of the way, inclining his head ever so slightly.

"Mr Snape," the minister replied with a nod.

As they settled in the chairs around the table that had the tea set and sandwiches, Lily said, "I don't want to see either of you wearing one of those bracelets," in that tone she'd perfected after about the third time she'd spotted Harry wearing his in her class. (Harry felt that her insistence that she didn't know how the spellwork would interact with the potions was a little weak, insofar as potential arguments against it went, but he'd always quietly slipped it off just to keep her from causing a scene.)

Nearly in tandem, Harry and the minister removed their bracelets and slipped them into a pocket, which got a snort out of Severus; doubtless, he'd already been warned about them.

"Are we expecting my uncles to this interrogation?" Harry couldn't resist asking as he watched his soulmate sort out his tea. (He used rather a lot of milk and two spoons of sugar; Harry was going to remember that, especially the suggestion that the minister had a sweet tooth.)

"Unfortunately," Severus muttered into his tea.

Lily elbowed him while Harry hid his grin in a sandwich, then explained, "Remus had to work this morning, so they'll be by a little after lunch."

"Uncle Remus," Harry explained to the minister, "works at a little muggle bookshop; unfortunately, muggle shops are a lot less likely to connect their employees consistently requesting off around full moons."

The minister hummed and nodded. "Unfortunately, policy changes can only do so much against a stigma that is centuries old, especially in a community that is as set in their ways as ours," he murmured; the laws criminalising firing werefolk on account of their curse had come nearly hand-in-hand with the creation of the potion that allowed them to keep their human mind, but they had seen only limited use in the decade since they'd been signed, especially as employers would cite plenty of other reasons for their firing.

Harry, who had watched Severus struggling to unlearn his own fear of Remus over the course of nearly a decade, hardly blamed the minister for his uncle not being able to hold down a job in the magical world, but he wasn't certain how to explain that in such a way that neither of them would lose face, so he settled for simply shrugging and murmuring, "It is what it is."

"Unfortunately," Severus said in that tone that he always used to warn Lily away from going off on a rant. (He used to try to use it on Sirius, too, but it had only ever ended in disaster; Harry had some rather fond memories of the days before his father learnt better, though.)

Lily's unimpressed glare was completely unsubtle, but Severus ignored her, so she eventually turned to the minister. "So, Tom," she said with a worrying amount of Gryffindor brashness; likely meant to punish Severus, "whatever do you do when you're not trapped in the ministry or glad-handing with the purists?"

Harry probably should have suggested his soulmate come up with an emergency and run for it while he still could.

The minister smiled, though, seeming far more composed than the last time Lily had gone after him, and glanced at Harry. "I'm afraid you've just seen something of a preview," he said. "I should have been quite happy to give up politics for a more academic calling. Alas, Professor Dumbledore refused me the position."

"I wonder why," Lily muttered.

"Mum!" Harry called, frowning at her, even as Severus cleared his throat in that utterly unimpressed way he'd long since perfected for using when they had lunch over at Malfoy Manor.

"I apologise," Lily said in a tone that wasn't really apologetic. "I only mean that your politics during the time you would have made such a bid don't speak well to your ability to teach all students fairly."

"You may as well speak plainly, Mrs Snape," the minister returned, tone wry. "I do believe it's clear to everyone in this room why you find my early stance on muggleborns so abhorrent. And, in truth, I do believe that was a large part of why Professor Dumbledore turned me down."

"Only a part of it?" Lily muttered, before very pointedly picking up a sandwich to eat, likely in response to the unimpressed stares Harry and Severus had both turned on her; Riddle-Gaunt's permission or no, the hostility was completely unnecessary.

The minister cleared his throat. "You cannot tell me that you haven't noticed the disparity between how Professor Dumbledore treats Slytherins and the students in other houses; he has never cared for me."

Lily looked away, clearly not having a good response for that; Harry knew she'd fought for him to be made head boy – the last one in Slytherin had very likely been the minister himself – but the headmaster had refused, instead picking Neville. (Neville had told Harry, multiple times, that he very much had not wanted the position, and he'd tried to refuse it, but his gran hadn't let him.)

"Didn't he introduce you to the magical world?" Harry had to ask; he'd heard some stories from other Slytherins that suggested as much.

"He did," the minister agreed, something almost uncomfortable about his voice. "I don't think either of us were particularly impressed with the other by the end of the meeting."

"In what way?" Lily pressed, leaning forward, and Harry was really starting to wish he hadn't asked.

The minister shifted, rearranging his hands in in a slow, calm manner that Harry was nearly certain was meant to try to hide how much he didn't appreciate the topic. "I was raised in a muggle orphanage," he said, his voice utterly flat. "I believe you have some familiarity with how cruel muggles can be towards those different from them, Mrs Snape."

Harry very firmly focussed on the sandwiches on offer; his mother would almost certainly be glaring at him, and Severus was probably either doing the same or wearing his silently suffering look.

"I found ways to protect myself, using what little magic I had discovered myself capable of, and Professor Dumbledore wasn't impressed. So much so that, when I requested a display of his magic, he made an illusion that he'd set the only things I owned on fire."

Lily flinched and demanded, "Albus did what?" with such rage, Harry half suspected the headmaster would be getting a tongue-lashing later; her respect for Dumbledore and dislike for the minister would do little to change how much she abhorred adults who threatened children.

"You're welcome to ask him about the event," the minister commented, sounding slightly more at ease than he had done; Harry could only assume he was pleased to put a dent in Lily's love of the headmaster, which he was fully behind, after nearly seven years in the man's least favourite house. "I'm sure he'll happily fill you in about my childhood misdeeds to excuse himself."

"Perhaps I will," Lily agreed in that tone that Harry knew meant she fully intended to do so. He almost wished he could be a fly on the wall for that conversation; perhaps he'd ask the portrait of former headmaster Basil Fronsac (who Harry had befriended in his third year, after realising how beneficial it would be to have a spy in Dumbledore's office) if he could give him the highlights.

"Perhaps," Severus intoned, "we should discuss something that's less likely to cause a debate?"

"Potions?" Harry was quick to suggest, because that had always been a favourite in their home, for obvious reasons. "Dad will deny it," he stage-whispered to the minister, "but he was instrumental in the creation of the Wolfsbane Potion."

"I would hardly say 'instrumental'," Severus tried to demure.

"So Damocles didn't swear that it would have likely taken him another decade without your invaluable help?" Lily asked with a wide grin; teasing Severus about his rather secretive assistance in creating a not-insignificant number of the potions created within the last fifteen years was one of Lily and Harry's favourite pastimes. (Which was at least half the reason Harry had brought it up, because Severus could take the teasing, and then the minister would get a break.)

"He was exaggerating," Severus insisted, even as his shoulders slumped slightly. (Harry could only assume he'd done the figuring himself and reached the same conclusion as Harry that this was a far preferable topic to Lily verbally attacking the minister.)

By the time Sirius and Remus stumbled through the floo, they'd moved on to discussing advances in potions that Severus hadn't had a hand in – a far more comfortable topic for him, and one which the minister seemed particularly interested in.

"Hey, Lils!" Sirius called as he led the way into the sitting room, wearing one of his widest, most chaotic grins. "And my Prongslet!" he added as he caught sight of Harry, his eyes lighting with the sort of mayhem that the Weasley twins could only aspire to.

Harry sighed and got up to walk over to his uncles, mostly because he didn't want to know what sort of 'accidental mess' Sirius would cause for the sake of greeting him. "Uncle Bonehead," he offered as he reached them, which made Sirius laugh and drag him into a slightly painful hug. 'Save me,' he mouthed at Remus.

Sirius' soulmate laughed and said, "Let him alone, Sirius."

"Rude," Sirius informed them both, and only he could say whether he was referring to Harry or Remus.

He did let Harry go, though, and he got a much calmer hug from his other honorary uncle.

"How bad has your mum been?" Remus whispered while Sirius greeted the minister and Severus; Harry was a little impressed that he didn't insult either of them, but he assumed Remus had warned him off.

Harry shrugged. "We distracted her early."

Remus' smile was knowing, but he didn't push, instead letting him go to get his own greetings in.

With everyone finally there, they moved to the dining room, where Kingsley and Derrick were invited to join them. Conversation ended up consisting of mostly auror talk, likely due to the number of them in residence.

"You know," Sirius said near the end of the meal, casting the minister a narrow-eyed look, "Harry's been thinking to join the aurors."

"So I've heard," the minister agreed evenly. "I believe he's also waiting until his NEWTs scores come back before deciding for certain which profession he'd rather go into." He glanced over at Harry, who shrugged and nodded.

"But that was before he knew his soulmate could affect his admittance into the auror program," Sirius returned.

"Black," Severus snapped, "you are not forcing my son to follow yours and Potter's ridiculous boyhood dreams."

"I'm sorry, but whose son is he?" Sirius demanded, shrugging off the hand Remus put on his shoulder and starting to rise.

Harry had seen this argument play out a few too many times, and he had less than zero interest in seeing it again, especially in front of guests. So he snapped, "If you two don't bloody shut up, I'm taking Lucius' suggestion!"

They both shut up and very firmly stared down at their plates, expressions mulish.

"And what, I wonder, was Mr Malfoy's suggestion?" the minister asked into the strained silence.

Harry turned a flat look on his soulmate. "Guess," he suggested, because even if he wasn't a supposed dark lord who owned Lucius' loyalty, it was hardly a secret what his godfather did while wandering around the ministry at all hours.

The minister's mouth twitched. "I do have a couple of unnecessarily opulent rooms you're welcome to use, should that be your choice," he offered in a perfectly reasonable tone.

"What?" said Sirius, while Harry couldn't help but grin; he'd never actually follow Lucius' 'advice', and he was fairly certain his soulmate got that, but he was playing along, and that was delightful.

Kingsley cleared his throat before anyone could recover enough to explode, and said, "Unfortunately, Minister, I believe that comes a little too close to misuse of ministry funds."

"You may be correct," the minister agreed, then turned an apologetic look on Harry. "It seems, should you resort to such a path, that you'll have to make use of Mr Malfoy's home, or else something you purchase yourself."

"He's already promised me use of the Rose Room, should I ever need it," Harry admitted, mostly for the overdramatic groan he knew Sirius would make.

"I suppose it does suit your colouring," the minister allowed. "However, I should think you'd rank a richer room."

Well, that answered the unasked question about whether or not the minister had ever been to Malfoy Manor, not that Harry had ever doubted he had been; Lucius did hold regular events, to which he invited all of the purist families and anyone else with a great deal of either political power or money. (Harry had a standing invitation, on account of being family, but Lily had insisted he wouldn't be attending any events until after he'd graduated, and Narcissa had politely agreed that that was sensible before Lucius could try arguing otherwise.)

"Probably," Harry agreed, "but that was my gift for getting into Slytherin."

"Yes, leave it to a Malfoy–"

"Remus, control your lesser half," Severus ordered, and Remus sighed and elbowed Sirius, who had mostly shut up to glare at Severus, anyway.

Harry decided he was done with lunch, and his soulmate looked like he was mostly done, too, so he asked, "Could I borrow you for a bit, Tom?"

The minister raised an eyebrow at him, but agreed, "Certainly," and started to get up.

"Stay in the house," Lily ordered.

"And doors open!" Sirius added, giving up glaring at Severus to narrow his eyes at the minister.

"Salazar protect us," Harry muttered, and exited the room before the brewing row could boil over.

He led the minister up to his bedroom, as it was one of the few places they could be promised a modicum of privacy.

"I'm sorry about them," he offered as he sat on his bed, leaving the desk chair for his soulmate. Assuming he stopped looking around Harry's room at his books, knickknacks, and the poster of Viktor Krum that Draco had bought him as a joke when he'd realised Harry had a crush. (Harry had put it up mostly because what else did you do with a poster of your favourite quidditch star?) "You probably would have been better off refusing Mum's invitation."

"So far as I'm aware, all families have their...dysfunctions," the minister returned as he settled into the desk chair, though his eyes were still on Harry's bookcase. "Some, admittedly, hide them better than others."

"If you think this is bad, wait until you hear about what happened when Walburga died and the whole extended Black family showed up to pay their respects and find out who was going to be the new head of the house," Harry muttered; he'd heard the story from Sirius, Narcissa, and Dora, each separately, and not a one of them had managed to paint the event as anything but a massive clusterfuck.

The minister snorted, finally looking at Harry. "I'm sure it ended in curses," he said, his eyes bright. And just a little red, again; Harry blamed the one red wall that Sirius had insisted he needed, then spelled to be resistant to repainting spells.

"That's putting it mildly."

The minister watched him for a moment, looking unfairly gorgeous with his faint smile focussed on Harry, before he asked, "Was there a reason you wanted me alone? Or was that just an attempt to get me away from your family."

"Mostly the second one," Harry admitted. "Though I was using you as an excuse to escape myself, as much as an attempt to save you."

The minister chuckled, warm and low. "I don't suppose I can blame you. I do, I admit, appreciate you diverting your mother earlier."

Harry tilted his head, considering that. "Was it true, Dumbledore pretending to set your things on fire?"

"Quite."

Harry watched him for a moment, then asked, "Why? What had you done?"

The minister's expression tightened. "I cannot begin to imagine what tales he had been told before the orphanage matron brought him to meet me, but I knew how to use magic to force people to tell me things, by then, and I tried it on him. Foolish."

Harry strongly suspected that was hardly the worst of it, but he didn't push for more, instead offering, "Mum'll probably yell at him and give him the silent treatment for a couple weeks, no matter what defences he pulls. She's real protective of kids, even those already grown."

"Interesting," the minister murmured, something almost crafty in his eyes.

"Whatever you're thinking, you'd best stop," Harry informed him, unimpressed. "If I catch you trying to manipulate my mum, I'll have to show you some of the curses Uncle Sirius taught me over the summer."

The minister's return smile wasn't particularly kind. "I'm not certain that will work out nearly as well as you're thinking."

Harry narrowed his eyes.

"However," the minister continued, his smile easing into something gentler, "I shall endeavour to remember that your family is off limits."

Harry watched him for a long moment, waiting for any sign that the minister was just being facetious. But, if he was, he hid it well, and Harry eventually relaxed, determining that was the best he was going to get.

The minister had evidently been waiting for him to relax, for he shortly after asked, "What is your preference for future job, if you don't mind my asking?"

Harry shrugged. "As much as it disappoints Dad, potions has never been my passion, though I like it well enough. Curses and shields are more my preference–" he motioned towards his bookcase, which was at least half books on offensive and defensive magic "–but auror has never spoken to me the way Uncle Sirius says it did him and James. That's really why I said it depended on my NEWTs, because I just don't care."

The minister stared at him for a long moment, frowning, before turning to look over his bookcase again. Harry could almost see his mind racing behind his not-quite-red eyes, supplying and discarding ideas faster than most of the people Harry knew would bother.

Finally, the minister looked back at him and asked, "Which NEWTs are you taking? Potions, transfiguration, offensive and defensive, I assume?"

Harry nodded. "And charms, herbology, care of magical creatures, and arithmancy." He sighed. "I actually wanted to take ancient runes, too, but Mum said seven classes was a heavy enough course load, and Dad insisted I needed to take magical creatures in case I ended up picking potioneer."

"Sensible," the minister allowed, "and magical creatures would likely also be helpful for aurors, though I'm given to understand that very few of them ever took the course."

"Yeah, that's pretty much what Uncle Sirius said."

The minister nodded. "While I doubt you want another option, I'm certain the Department of Mysteries would love to have you."

Harry straightened. "Wait, the DoM? Don't they only take transfers from other departments? That's what Professor Sinistra said, during my career advice." He'd actually seriously considered the Department of Mysteries before that meeting, because they had sounded way more his speed than his other options; experimenting had always been his favourite part of potions, and defence and offence, besides just being something he was good at, gave him lots of opportunity to see how different spells interacted, which shields stopped which curses and how well.

"As a general rule, yes. However, they have been known to accept students with larger class loads who pass most or all of their NEWTs. And, of course, I could press them to accept you."

Harry stared at him, because that was likely true, and not something that had been an option before. Still... "I think I'd rather get in on my own merit."

The minister inclined his head. "Admirable. The offer does stand, however; I've found it's better to fight a bit for what you truly want, than to simply lie down and accept second best."

Harry couldn't quite stop a laugh. "I'm pretty sure that's the house motto."

The minister's smile was rather more toothy than was polite, but Harry suspected his own was the same.

After a moment of companionable silence, during which they could hear voices in far more friendly tones downstairs, the minister's expression twisted with something that looked a little like uncertainty. "I'm sure your family has plans for your official return home. A party, or some such."

"Probably," Harry agreed with an uncertain shrug. "I mean, they haven't said anything to me, but Uncle Sirius and Uncle Remus always come over the first night I'm home and we do dinner. Why?"

The minister attempted to meet Harry's eyes, then quickly glanced to the side and took a slow, careful breath. "Perhaps the next day, then, if you wanted to do lunch?"

It took Harry a moment, but then he felt a bit like his chest was swelling. "You're asking me on a date?"

The minister's whole face tightened. "Badly," he said, sounding a bit like it had hurt him to say so.

Harry was so utterly beyond charmed, it was sort of ridiculous. And yet, there was something rather humanising about watching his much older and extremely accomplished soulmate struggle with something that Harry had always thought to be, if not simple, certainly something that didn't take any real skill to manage.

"I actually hadn't decided if I wanted to even take the train back, honestly," Harry admitted, because he'd only ever taken the train back to King's Cross after his third year, and that had been because he was spending a couple of weeks with the Longbottoms while Severus was studying with another potioneer in America, Lily intending to follow him as soon as the train left Hogsmeade to add her own assistance. "It's just not something that really makes sense, not when I live in Hogsmeade. Assuming you're not busy for lunch that afternoon?"

The minister finally met his eyes, still looking a little uncertain, but also maybe a little relieved? "I'm fairly certain I have that afternoon free," he said with the sort of certainty that made Harry think that he'd be clearing that afternoon, if necessary. "Did you have any particular restaurants in mind? Not the ministry cafeteria, please. For the sake of both our digestive systems."

Harry laughed and shook his head. "I've heard enough stories from Uncle Sirius to know better. Uhm, maybe not somewhere you'd have to go on a waiting list for? Otherwise, I'm not picky."

"I'll surprise you, then," the minister decided with a final sort of nod. "When you arrive, you're welcome to wait down by the welcome desk, or else come up to my office; Cornelius can supply you with tea or water if I'm slow wrapping something up."

"I suppose it depends how busy the atrium is."

"Yes, that does tend to affect things," the minister agreed with a small smile.

(It remained utterly unfair how attractive he was when he did that.)

Thankfully – or not, depending – Lily picked about that moment to call, "Harry! You can stop hiding; your father and uncle are in time-out!"

The minister raised an eyebrow and Harry sighed as he got up. "That means Dad's in the potions lab, cleaning the cauldrons that can't be done with magic, and Uncle Sirius is helping the house-elves with either the dishes or cleaning the dining room, depending on if they broke anything. And Mum's almost certainly got both of their wands, though Uncle Remus might have Uncle Sirius'."

The minister cleared his throat. "Remind me to stay on your mother's good side."

Harry laughed and led the way back downstairs.

.

Chapter Text

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.

.