Rain pounded against the front windows of the little cafe. Wind shook the little bushes that lined the bottom of the glass, making the branches scritch and scratch across the pane. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance. Given all the racket, Harry knew he must have misheard Hermione.
“A plus one?”
She licked muffin crumbs from the corner of her mouth and said, “That’s when you invite-”
“Hermione, I know what a plus one is.” Harry crossed his arms and bent forward over the tabletop. “Severus Snape asked for a plus one?”
“Yes, Mrs. Weasley and I sent him an invitation to your birthday party, obviously.”
“And he sent an owl back asking if he could bring a plus one.” Hermione dusted her fingers and reached for her latte. “It’s quite polite of him, really.”
“Yeah.” Harry scratched his eyebrow. “Severus Snape, though?”
“Yes, Severus Snape.” Hermione shook her head and scrunched her brow. “Why not Severus Snape?”
“People don’t like him.”
“You like him well enough.”
“Yeah, I mean.” Harry chuckled, a little. “He’s my friend.”
“Ok. Well, your friend wants to bring a date to your birthday party. What’s the problem here, Harry?”
“Nothing.” Nothing was wrong about Snape bringing someone. Nothing was wrong with him dating. Snape was free to do as he pleased. He’d been free to do so ever since Harry had worked to clear his name after the war. Harry frowned. “I don’t know. It’s just strange is all, isn’t it?”
“Friends are usually happy when their friends date. Remember when Ron and I got together? You hugged us both and offered us Grimmauld Place.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and spread his arms wide. “That was different.”
“You’d been circling round each other for ages.”
Hermione sighed. “I am sure that Severus would appreciate your support.”
Harry drummed his fingers on the table and gnawed on his bottom lip. “Of course, I will be supportive.” Harry pulled his own half empty latte closer. “If the person is right for him.”
Hermione huffed. “You don’t get to decide that, Harry.”
“I’m his friend. You just said.” Harry sipped his drink. “A good friend looks out for their friend. Makes sure they aren’t making a mistake.”
Hermione’s eyes locked on Harry, scanning him from the tips of his messy black hair to the tips of his fidgety fingers. “Of course, friends do, and you are a good friend. Aren’t you, Harry?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “I am.”
Hermione nodded and turned her cup in circles, around and around.
“Have something to say, Hermione?”
Hermione watched her cup go round and shook her head. “Will you be bringing a plus one?”
“You know I won’t.”
Harry’s romantic life was mostly nonexistent. He worked long hours as an Auror. Longer than most people were willing to endure. At least the people that Harry met anyway. He’d dated Ginny right after everything ended, the Battle and the trials. She was a mess and he was a bigger one. They fought constantly. Constantly. When she finally ended things, Harry had never felt such freedom. Not even after defeating Voldemort. He hadn’t bothered much with dating after Ginny. His life was plenty full with training and work and the occasional dinner with friends.
Friends like Severus Snape. Severus Snape who now had a plus one. Severus had never had a plus one before. Severus Snape did not date, as far as Harry knew.
Hermione was looking at him again. He shook his head and turned to look at the rain. It ran down the window in little rivulets, twisting and turning and meeting and parting in an ineffable pattern.
“So,” Harry started. “What other plans do you and Mrs. Weasley have for my birthday?”
Hermione smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. She gave Harry one last searching look before she launched into talk of menus and music, decor and guests. Much to Harry’s chagrin, his twenty-fifth seemed to be shaping up to be quite the shindig.
Harry adjusted the takeaway bags over to his left hand and knocked with his right. Severus lived in a flat in London, south of the river, in Clapham. He lived near a Tube line, which was nice, because Harry had taken to riding the Tube over Apparating or flooing, at least around London. He had an oyster card and everything. Harry could hop on the Northern Line near his place and be at Severus’ in thirty minutes. Forty, if he stopped for dinner, like he’d done today. Like he did most Saturdays before heading towards Severus’.
The door popped open and Harry pushed his way inside. The front room, a cozy little sitting room with a telly and bookshelves, was empty so Harry called out, “Severus?”
Harry dropped the bags off on the coffee table and followed Severus’ voice around the corner to his kitchen. Severus’ flat wasn’t palatial or anything, but he’d used his inheritance from Dumbledore to good effect. He had a nice view of Larkhall Park out his living room and a kitchen spacious enough to use as a potions lab, with the proper ventilation charms dutifully applied. What should have been a little dining nook had been appropriated for an office space. A table littered with scrolls and books and quills and ink sat in the middle. A tall perch rested in the corner with a brown owl, Pratchett, asleep on top.
Pratchett had probably conveyed messages back and forth between Severus and his Plus One. Harry gave the bird a squinty stare before turning into the kitchen.
Harry saddled up next to Severus at the counter and looked down inside the cauldron the man was currently adding some purple flower petals to.
“Skele-gro,” Harry said.
Severus clicked his tongue. “Fever draught.”
Harry hummed. “It’s the same color as Skele-gro.”
“Fever draught,” Severus reached over and lifted the stirring rod out; the potion oozed down its length and back into the cauldron, “is much thicker.”
Harry watched as the flowers dissolved and the potion took on the slight sheen of the fever draught he currently had in his own medicine cabinet at home.
Severus tapped the counter and the fire beneath the brew flickered off. He waved his hand and a crate of vials floated over to settle next to the cauldron. Severus swished his hand and the extra bits of ingredient disappeared. Another flick and the potion began filling each vial. All wandless. Harry smirked. The man really was a magical wonder.
“What did you bring for us to eat tonight, Potter?”
Severus liked Indian food. Of all of the various cuisines Harry’d brought over, Indian seemed to be eaten up with the most alacrity. Harry had endured plenty of trial and error coming to this conclusion, and in compiling a list of go-to foods for keeping Severus fed up.
Severus refused anything with seafood. He had a wicked sweet tooth that he tried to keep secret. He was allergic to strawberries. He only ate lunch if forced or coerced. Potatoes, in any form, but especially roasted, were his favorite food.
Harry opened a cupboard to pull out plates while Severus opened the fridge and grabbed two beers. They made their way to the living room, where they always ate together, and plopped down onto their respective chairs. Well, Harry plopped, Severus folded his limbs down gracefully.
Severus inhaled deeply through his great nose and then bent forward to begin unwrapping the aloo tikka and garlic naan, and unboxing the chicken korma and tandoori lamb. Harry uncapped the beers and placed one in front of each of them.
All of this happened while Severus complained about a demanding owl order customer he’d had that day. The lady had wanted a Hagrid sized dose (Severus’ words) of some depilatory brew sent over within the hour.
“I told her to go to Slug and Jiggers if she wanted fast and cheap,” Severus continued while piling a helping of korma on top of his aloo tikka. After filling the plate, he settled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began eating. Severus hummed in appreciation and Harry smirked down into his own plate of food.
“You tell her, Severus. Who’s she think you are? Stanley Cogar?”
Severus snorted, then glared at Harry for making him do so.
Harry hid his grin behind a piece of naan.
Severus didn’t wear robes around his flat, and he’d taken to a more open neckline since Nagini ravaged that particular bit of his body. It turned out Severus Snape was quite fit beneath all those robes. Not like a bodybuilder or anything, but he was lean and strong. His legs went on for days. Harry couldn’t help following the line of muscle up his thigh, from knee to hip. The fabric of his trousers had stretched so tightly across Severus’ leg when he’d crossed them, Harry couldn’t not look. The sleeves of his button up had been rolled to his elbows and Harry could see the flex and release of the muscles in his forearms as he ate.
Harry liked this relaxed version of Severus Snape. It was certainly less intimidating than the Hogwarts Potion Master version. Did the Plus One get this version of Severus too? Harry kind of always thought he was the only one that saw this side of Severus. The man still layered the robes on when he was out and about in the Wizarding world. It was only here, and when they went out to Muggle places, that Severus dressed down like this.
Harry set his mostly still full plate down and picked up his beer.
“Not hungry tonight, Potter?”
Harry shrugged. “Had a weird day.”
Severus speared a bit of chicken and a sliver of onion. “You don’t work on Saturdays.”
“Met with Hermione for coffee,” Harry said. “Talked about plans for my birthday. The Weasleys are throwing a party for me.”
Severus paused in gathering another forkful of food. “I heard.”
“What’s so strange about a birthday? They come around every year. The Weasleys have never let one pass without celebrating.”
“More people are coming this year than usual.”
Severus chewed and tilted his head to the side. “You’ll manage, I’m sure.”
Harry pressed his lips together. “I don’t much care for large groups of people.”
“You’ll know everyone there.”
Severus put his plate to the side and picked up his drink. Harry watched his lips push and pull and part as he ran his tongue, first, over his teeth and then out to each corner of his mouth and then, finally right across the bottom lip. “Why wouldn’t you?” He took a swig from the bottle. “The Weasleys wouldn’t invite Ministry arseholes or random sycophants.”
Harry hesitated. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he didn’t want to be the one to bring up Severus and dating. If Severus had something to share, he should share it himself. They really were friends, after all. “I need another drink. You want?”
“Yes, please. Thank you ever so much for offering me my own alcohol in my own home.”
Harry tossed a, “yeah, yeah,” over his shoulder as he went to the kitchen to fetch two more bottles. His fingers curled around the handle of the fridge and he began to pull when he saw it. Spelled to stick to the door, there was the invitation to his birthday party.
The one Severus received from Hermione and Mrs. Weasley.
The one Severus looked at, saw Harry’s name on, and thought of some other person he wanted to bring. His Plus One.
Harry’s molars mashed together and he yanked the door open harder than he meant to, sending all the condiment jars lining the door clinking together.
Severus had picked his plate back up by the time Harry circled back to his seat. He floated one bottle to sit besides Severus’ other half drunk one and he opened his own before settling back in his chair.
“So tell me,” Severus said.
Harry raised his eyebrows and made a questioning grunt.
“Tell me what was ‘weird’ about your coffee with Granger.”
Harry laid his head against the back of the chair, rolling his neck until he was looking at the ceiling. Harry sighed. He glanced at Severus through his bottom lashes. “She asked me if I was bringing a date.” He lifted his head. “You know I hate when she meddles.”
Severus hummed. “Are you?”
“Am I?” Harry scoffed. “No.” Are you? It was right there. Right on the tip of his tongue. Harry swallowed it and another swig of his beer. “Where are the playing cards I brought over? I feel like playing cards tonight.”
Severus lifted one brow, likely at Harry changing the subject, and said, “A drawer in the kitchen.” He stood, empty plate in hand, layered Harry’s plate on top of it, and walked towards said kitchen. “I’ll fetch them.”
“I didn’t even want a party, you know.”
Ron had his feet propped up on his desk and he picked at his nails with a broken quill tip. “It makes mum happy.”
Harry fiddled with his rank insignia and pouted.
“It’s really not that big of a deal, mate,” Ron said. “Mum wanted it to be special this year. Invite all your friends over, have a proper do. She did the same when all of us turned twenty-five, Hermione too. Now it’s your turn.” He tossed the quill tip towards the bin. “Just let her.”
“I’m not stopping her.” Harry placed his elbows on his desk and leant a cheek against his fist. “Did Hermione tell you Snape’s bringing a date?”
“She mentioned it, yeah.” Ron grabbed a memo that had just floated his way. “That’ll be interesting.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s Snape. It’ll be interesting to see who a bloke like that dates.” Ron looked at Harry before asking, “Don’t you think?”
Harry bit his bottom lip, hard.
“You suppose it’ll be a girl or a guh?”
Harry sat up straight. These were questions he thought only he ever pondered. Late at night when he couldn’t sleep, wracked with dreams of ghosts. Or when he and Severus met up at the Three Broomsticks and people chatted Severus up (those brave, rejected few). Sometimes during idle moments, like when he was a few drinks in, nestled into his chair in Severus’ living room, listening to him talk about potions or strategy or french philosophy (his passions), and seeing Severus come alive. Those moments he wondered what kind of person could have someone like Severus, what kind of person Severus would let have him.
“Someone brilliant, like him, you know, and definitely magically strong- they’d have to be.” Harry nodded. “I bet he wouldn’t much care what the person looked like. When we were at the Memorial Ball two years ago, the new Defense professor, Lightarrow- very pretty- she was all over Severus. Really trying to get a leg over. Severus was completely oblivious.”
Ron scoffed. “Right. So probably a bloke then is what you’re saying.”
Harry’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think he much cares either way.”
Ron gave Harry a searching look. “You’ve never asked?”
“All these years...relationships, dating, partners...none of that ever came up?”
Harry shook his head. “No.”
Ron looked bemused. “You see him all the time though.”
“You have dinner with him every week.”
Harry pursed his lips.
Ron continued, “It just seems like a topic that would have come up. Between friends.”
Harry shrugged and stood. “Well, it hasn’t.” He turned to the shelf behind him and pulled out a blank bit of parchment. “It’s not so odd, I don’t think.”
“Oh yeah?” Ron shifted and his feet thunked to the ground. “Who’s Luna dating then?”
Harry’s brow scrunched together. “That Scamander kid.”
Harry could see where this was going and shook his head. “Not the same. I was at her and Ben’s wedding.”
“Ah, but the people she dated before Ben…”
Harry threw the parchment on his desk and then himself into his chair. “All blond quidditch players.”
“Yeah, we made fun of her constantly, and you know that because friends talk about their relationships.”
“Ok, but Severus doesn’t date. So there has never been anything to talk about.”
“Alright, alright. Don’t get so tetchy. It’s nothing to me anyway. I’m not wanting to date him.”
Harry blinked once, twice, three times. He stared at Ron for an uncomfortable minute then flattened his parchment out, organized his files and ink, and got back to work.
Post-War Wizarding society had embraced Muggle versions of psychology and psychotherapy. There were so many people suffering and struggling, and Wizarding society as a whole was trying to be more accepting of Muggle culture. Thus, it was a bit of a done thing, for a while, for witches and wizards to find outlets for their emotions through group therapy, music therapy, animal therapy, and the like.
Severus, as part of his pardon deal, had been required by the Wizengamot to seek out a therapist for evaluation and treatment. He was not tremendously thrilled about the whole thing, but he attended sessions regularly and his therapist had suggested art as an outlet. Thus, Severus Snape, ex-Death Eater and feared Dungeon Bat, took court-mandated painting classes. Every Tuesday afternoon at a little Muggle Studio in Camden.
Harry went with him. Mostly to show his support, but also, Harry had a genuine interest in art. He’d always doodled and drawn growing up. Scrap paper and broken crayons and stubby pencils weren’t usually confiscated by the Dursleys.
“Severus, Harry,” Madeline greeted them as they walked in. Madeline taught classes in a way that reminded Harry of Hagrid. She loved what she was doing intensely and wanted everyone to feel the same, but she hadn’t quite figured out how to put that love into words yet. She only did it part-time. During the day, she was a barista. Harry had partaken in her coffee. She was much better at making cappuccinos
Harry smiled and waved; Severus flapped his hand in a vague sort of return greeting. They made their way to their respective easels. The art studio was near Regent’s Park, off on a little side road, next door to a dingy but delightful Chinese restaurant. The space itself was large and bright with a wall of windows at the front and modern lighting overhead. Completed student canvases were displayed along the left and right walls. The back wall had a door for a toilet and shelves and shelves of supplies. Easels circled the room. The center was reserved for Madeline and, sometimes, a subject they were required to paint.
They didn’t have a physical subject at the moment. Their assignment was to paint something that invoked happiness for the painter. They’d been working on this canvas for the last month. Harry’s work was straightforward. His painting was of Hogwarts at Christmastime. Severus’ work was always more abstract. He hid his meaning behind splashes of color and shape. Happiness for Severus, it turned out, was black and green and gold. Imperfect circles and quick slashes in a chaotic pattern.
Harry watched him as he walked it from where it had been left to dry after last week’s class and placed it on his easel for this week’s session. Harry said, “I like this one, Severus.”
Severus nodded his head and pressed his lips together. He didn’t like to talk about his paintings.
Harry arranged his paint colors before his own easel.
Severus glanced at Harry’s. “And yours is saccharine, of course.”
“Of course.” Harry grinned. “I like it. I’m going to hang it above the mantle in my living room.”
Right now there was a mirror above the mantle; it’d come with the flat when he bought it last year. This painting, amateurish as it was, would look better. And it really did make him happy to look at it, with its lush green Christmas trees bedecked with fairy lights, little paint blob people feasting at the long tables. Harry could almost smell roast chicken and peppermint cocoa, evergreen sap and snow.
Harry continued, “Maybe not now. Maybe I will save it for Christmastime.”
“Or.” Severus sat on his stool and adjusted his arse around until he was comfortable and crossed his legs. “You could charm it to change with the season.”
“You can do that?”
“I can’t.” Severus shrugged. “There is likely a book that will tell you how. I saw one at Flourish and Blotts on the subject, if you’d like it.”
“Thanks, Severus.” Harry smiled. “I would like that.”
Severus’ mouth twitched up at the corners in return. The biggest smile he gave without alcohol involved.
Once, a few New Years back, Harry had managed to get a big rolling bout of laughter out of the man. They had both drank their way through a two bottles of red wine and a couple cups of Ron’s holiday eggnog concoction. They were flying pretty high and Harry had nailed, in his opinion and Severus’, an impression of Dolores Umbridge performing The Nutcracker. Hermione had snapped a picture of the event. Harry had stuck it up on his fridge, with wards to protect it, after Severus had had a go at it a few times. It was one of Harry’s most prized possessions.
Harry took his seat and picked up his paintbrush as Madeline started class. She talked about the subjectivity of conveying emotion through art and then let them go to work as she walked around to guide them all through their last ‘happiness’ session. Harry set to adding a few more details to the table settings, maybe a few more bobbles on the trees, stockings over the fireplace. Severus mixed paints, creating a deep shade of red. Blood red. Reminding Harry of when he’d almost lost Severus. Before Nagini’s attack, most of the death Harry had witnessed had been bloodless. Harry thought Severus had died beneath his hands, blood oozing over his fingers. He hadn’t much cared for the color red since that day.
Harry swallowed and watched Severus. His face was relaxed and peaceful as he assessed the color on his palate, his long dark lashes fluttering against his pale skin. His hand wrapped softly around a brush as it mixed and moved the paint. Severus had nice hands, strong but delicate. His fingers were long and knuckly. His ring finger bent oddly in the middle. Severus said he’d broken it fighting as a child and it had never healed properly, even with magic. Harry didn’t like to imagine how viciously the tiny Severus, in his oversized hand me downs, had to have been punching to break a finger that badly. That crooked finger made something tight and protective and hot race through Harry’s gut. Blue veins bulged and shifted with the tendons on the back of Severus’ hand as he gripped the brush, now dipped in red paint, and brought it towards the canvas.
“Harry.” Madeline leaned over Harry’s shoulder, pulling him from his study of Severus’ hands. She nodded as she took in his canvas. “Lovely, as always.” She smiled. “Such imagination. A scene in a castle? Oh, are those candles floating?”
Harry nodded. Madeline pointed out some shadows and light source issues on the table items, he always missed those little things, and moved over from Harry to Severus.
“Oh,” she gasped. “Yes, yes. I can feel this painting, Severus.”
Severus’ hand twitched where it was adding a line of red along the bottom.
“The colors. The lightness of the application here. I feel the unexpectedness of the happiness. And the black, the depth. And the red you are adding, so heavy, such a strong foundation at the bottom, but it’s the top layer, the final layer.”
Harry searched the painting, taking in everything Madeline saw. His brow furrowed and he tilted his head.
Severus made a humming noise, deep and rumbling.
Madeline nodded and continued, “Love. I see love.”
Harry’s eyes shot to Severus.
The Plus One.
Severus had paled and he swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing roughly against the scars on his neck. He seemed to be willfully not meeting Harry’s eyes. His hand shook slightly as he lifted the brush again, adding more red. More love.
Harry looked back at his own canvas. It blurred as his vision shifted in and out of focus. He heard an odd rasping sound and realized it was his own breathing, gone tight and fast. His stomach seemed to be pounding against his heart. His skin felt hot and cold at once.
He closed his eyes. Squeezed them tight. God, what was wrong with him? He felt sad, of all things, and angry, and, just, more...he didn’t know. His skin felt too small. The room felt too big. There were too many people. The scratch of brushes on canvas and the clink of tools against jars was too loud.
He stood and walked to the toilet, closing himself inside, away from everything. From Severus and his painting of happiness and love. Harry pushed his glasses up to perch on the top of his head and splashed water on his face. He leaned over the sink for a minute, maybe two, and gathered his composure. He straightened his spine and looked at his face in the mirror. His breathing evened back out, his pulse calmed. He had a frantic look to his eyes, but he blinked once, twice, and pulled it all back in as best he could before turning and walking back out to the classroom.
He felt Severus eyes on him as he walked back to his stool. Severus’ head turned and he watched Harry pick his paintbrush back up, watched him clear his throat and lean in to add a tiny shadow beneath a goblet.
“Harry,” Severus began, cautious and quiet, “Are you okay?”
“Of course.” Harry smiled, his jaw tight. “Of course, yeah.”