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Severus Snape hated Christmas. He’d always told Dumbledore that in no uncertain terms. Of course, these days, just the thought of the old man sent a niggle of guilt through him. Even if it was Dumbledore’s choice. If Severus had had his way, he’d never have been the one to do it. But as Dumbledore had said, he was the only one able to do what they needed, and so he had become a murderer—again.

Which was why he was here, rather than at Hogwarts. It was why he’d left the Wizarding world behind, leaving Potter to tell the Wizarding world that he’d died at the hands of his former master. It also meant finding a new way to live. This meant accepting a job as a professor in a rather small Welsh college, and trying to blend in. So he couldn’t tell that to Davi Thomas, the Head of his school, who had insisted he come to this party; that he really would rather work on his experiments than stand around with a bunch of Muggle strangers, pretending he was like them.

He’d managed to avoid other gatherings before this by saying he still had things to unpack in the housing he’d been provided, or that he had to work on planning out coursework, or marking papers. That hadn’t been enough to deter Thomas this time.

“Everyone will be there, Prince. You’ve hardly met anyone aside from the students. The other Professors are starting to believe you are a figment of their imagination.”

It still felt odd to be called by his mother’s name, and oftentimes, it took him a few moments to realize someone was talking to him before he responded. He knew most thought he was either highly distractible or incredibly disinterested. He was, of course; though not in the way others thought.

Still, his boss had a point, though not the one he thought he had. If he was to become used to going by his mother’s name, he was going to have to hear it a great deal more. Which meant interacting with others. Even if he preferred to avoid every last one of the chirping, squawking, self-important professors who taught at the place.

His assumptions of them hadn’t been too far wrong, either. Each one he’d been introduced to seemed so certain that their subject was the only one that mattered, and Severus was quite ready to have this all over and done with. But he’d promised that he would stay for an hour, so that would be exactly how long he stayed. Not a moment longer. Now all he had to do was manage to hold his temper that long.

How these people could stand each other Severus couldn’t begin to guess. Several of the professors had gone on about their football team, and how the coach had all sorts of plans for the coming year—as though he would care about such a ridiculous Muggle sport. And half the women had wanted to know if he were single, a question which he had purposefully avoided answering. He shuddered at the thought of becoming involved with any of these people, let alone the women, who all reminded him of Trelawney or McGonagall, which was enough to almost send him running off screaming at the mental image.

To distract himself, Severus turned to the refreshments table. Thomas was standing near the punch bowl, talking to a man who looked heart-stoppingly familiar: tall, slender, dark hair falling neatly to his shoulders, and looking healthy, sleek, and bronzed. Severus shook his head. He was dead—he had to be. Not in the way Severus was, but completely and finally. Dumbledore had promised him he couldn’t come back. After all, there was no coming back from the Veil, was there?

Severus was just considering running away when Thomas caught sight of him. “Stephen! Come here. I want to introduce you to our assistant coach—Reggie Rose.” The man in question turned to glance at Severus, and Severus saw his eyes widen, then he turned to whisper something to Thomas and tried to move away.

Rose? Reggie? This wasn’t…it couldn’t be! In spite of himself, Severus found his feet moving forward. “Rose? A bit of an odd name. Not Welsh, then?”

“Reggie” was looking away from Severus, but he shook his head. “No.” Severus waited, but it seemed that that was the only answer he would get.

“Have you taught here long?” Severus heard himself asking, even without meaning. He had to know for sure. Was this truly one of the Black brothers? And if so, how was it even possible that either of them had escaped their fates?

Reggie shrugged.

“He’s been here going on, what, ten years, now, Reggie?”

The other man shrugged again.

At that point, his attempts to avoid talking were beginning to grate on Severus’s nerves. Though perhaps if he had not suspected him of being from the Wizarding world, the man’s responses might have amused Severus. “I suppose it’s a fitting role for him. I can’t imagine it’s easy for the students to understand him when he barely even manages to speak in single syllables,” he said, watching to see how the other man would react, and ignoring Thomas’s horrified denials in defense of him.

Deep grey eyes turned to pierce Severus. “Fuck you, too.”

Not Sirius. Sirius would have been far more personal; far more cruel. But he hadn’t been wrong. No, this had to be Regulus. The question was, what should he do about it?

Before he could do anything, however, the other man had snatched up a glass from the table and stalked across the room to hide in a huddle of women who seemed to build a wall between the two men, glaring over at Severus, still shell-shocked that one of his former compatriots had been hiding in Wales all this time.

After a moment of watching the women console Regulus, he turned to Thomas. “I think that’s enough socializing for the evening, wouldn’t you say?” He was already moving away from the man before he could so much as nod.

It took Severus’s boss almost a week to recover and seek Severus out to insist that he try to apologize to the assistant coach for insulting him.

“I wasn’t the one who snubbed him. If he wishes to apologize, I might consider it.” Severus had been avoiding everyone since the gathering. Especially since going into the campus coffee shop and running afoul of one of the women Regulus had run to hide behind after their little exchange. She’d glowered at him the entire time his coffee was being made, and made no effort to hide her dislike. He hadn’t bothered asking her why. He remembered Regulus well enough. As a boy, he’d always run to his older cousins when he’d been able, and any insult was enough to send him crying to them. Severus had always been grateful he’d never been one of those Regulus had sicced them on. Cissa could be at least as dangerous as her sister when angered.

“Stephen…you insulted him! You can’t expect him to apologize after that.”

“I don’t know why it would matter, Thomas. He was ignoring me before that. Why should my apology make a difference? Besides, it’s not like our paths will cross often. We’re not even near the same areas of the campus.”

“That is not the point, Stephen. Even if he does not accept the apology, it is always good form to try, wouldn’t you say?”

Severus disagreed, but he wasn’t willing to say so out loud. After all, Regulus had been here for years, and this was Severus’s first. If it came down to one or the other, likely the Vice-Chancellor would go with the professor with more seniority. “If you wish, sir,” Severus said, stressing the honorific so that the man would know he was doing this under protest.

Thomas sighed. “I do. I’d like to keep peace if at all possible. If the Vice-Chancellor were to hear about a war between two professors…I shudder to think how he would deal with it. Try. That’s all I ask.”

Severus made a sour face, but nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, meaning it more now. That was, after all, just what he wanted to avoid.

After picking himself up a supper at the nearby bakery, Severus went back to the small flat the school had provided and began to write a letter. Regulus would never be so stupid as to let him near, after all. This was the only way Severus could think of to get his attention. All he could do was hope the other man wouldn’t ignore it entirely.

Regulus,

Yes, I know, I shouldn’t use that name. But we both know that is who you are. And for the record, I will admit to my own identity. I have enchanted this letter so that only we two will be able to read it, so there need be no worry that others will learn our identities from it.

It seems we both chose the same course. Though I chose mine far too late. Lucius always told me my attachment to Evans would prove my undoing. I suppose he was right. But it is all over now, and I have no remaining attachments to that world. You need have no fear that I will tell others of our kind.

I am sorry that I startled you at the Christmas party. If I had known—not that there was any way I would have been able to do so—that you were here, I would have sought you out sooner and in private, so not to startle you in such a way.

I do hope the two of us can get past this. We never spent much time together either at Hogwarts or after I left, but there surely must be things you’d like to talk about that these Muggles could never understand. If you would like to make peace, I would not be adverse. I spend most of my free time in the chemistry labs, or in my office, and you are always welcome to simply write back. However you feel comfortable communicating. I hope that the two of us can perhaps, over time, even become friends.

Sincerely,
Severus Snape

He mailed it off the next morning, then did his best to forget about it, and focused on getting ready for his students’ return from their holidays in a few days. He was thinking a pop quiz. That would keep them on their toes, and give him a chance to spew a bit of bile rather than loosing it on Thomas, like he would prefer.

Because of that, he was rather startled when a letter arrived for him only a day later, left in his in-box, and obviously hand-delivered.

He locked up his office, then sat at his desk and opened the envelope slowly, not certain if he wanted to read what was written inside. After several minutes of mental argument with himself, he finally gave in to his curiosity, and began to read.

Severus,

I won’t deny that it feels odd to use that name. Even more, to see my own written anywhere. A bit alarming as well. It has been so long since I have even thought of myself as anyone but “Reggie,” and I have to admit, my first reaction was to flee. But I have been here too long to take that route now. People would notice, and come searching for me, and that is something I neither want nor need.

You say that it is all over…I assume you mean the war has ended? I had to stop reading the Prophet about a year into my exile. Hearing that Sirius had betrayed Potter was more than I could take. The world had gone insane, and I could no longer be a part of it, so I had to separate myself from it all. I admit to curiosity about it all, but at the same time, it’s hard to let go of the fear. Perhaps someday. But not quite yet.

I do find myself surprised that you would end up here, but I will leave questions about that for another time. Rather I would like to apologize for my own behavior. It was just such a shock to see someone I recognized from the Wizarding world that I am afraid it threw me into a panic. It was not your fault. Rather, it was my own, for over-reacting.

Please accept my sincerest apology for that. And perhaps an invitation to supper one evening as apology for my reaction?

I await your answer,
Regulus

Most of the letter was unsurprising, except for the invitation at the end. Not only was it unexpected, but Severus had no clue how he even wanted to respond.

Pushing aside the decision for a bit, Severus spent the day writing out quizzes for his classes before he turned back to the letter to respond. This time, his letter was much shorter. He wrote that he was glad Regulus felt no animosity, and he would be pleased to spend an evening together talking.

The only response he got to this note was a card with Regulus’s address, and a time to be there on Friday.

Regulus turned out not to live in the campus housing provided for the staff, but rather in a small cottage just outside of town. It was quaint, and Severus could see the attraction. Away from the annoying children, and the nosy co-workers… Quiet and peaceful. Perhaps he should look for a place of his own. If he decided to stay, anyway…

Severus stepped up to the front door and knocked, then looked around the garden. It wasn’t a lot of land, but Regulus had made the best of the small amount of space, and Severus recognized a few plants useful for different medicinal potions.

The door opened, and Severus turned. Regulus was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, and still looked far too much like his brother for Severus’s taste. “Sev—“

“Stephen, if you please.” Severus looked around, then back at Regulus.

“No one can see or hear us here, Severus. But I will if you wish.” He ushered Severus into the house, watching his face as he took in the cozy living room.

Severus knew it would only make things difficult later if he allowed the name, and yet it was nearly impossible to deny that it would feel good to have someone who knew his name, and called him by it. “If you wish,” he said grudgingly. “And do you prefer Reggie?”

A flash of annoyance crossed Regulus’s face. “To be honest, I always hated the nickname. Sirius used it to annoy me. Regulus, please. If you don’t mind, that is? It would be good to hear it again.”

“Of course.” Severus could imagine how difficult it must have been for Regulus to start over before his life had barely begun. To be apart from everything he’d known before. Regulus had always been extremely social, unlike Severus. And to be away from the security of his family must have been even more difficult.

Regulus smiled, then led the way to the kitchen. “I’m just working on a bit of a fry-up. I hope that will be all right?”

Severus quickly hid his surprise that Regulus was able to cook. After all, the other man had been alone for years now. It only made sense that he had picked up a few skills in the intervening years. Though Severus did have a passing thought that he was shocked the other man had not just married to have someone to do that sort of thing for him. Then another thought occurred—simply because Regulus was here in the Muggle world didn’t mean he was willing to get too close to non-wizarding people. Severus supposed some prejudices died hard.

It took Severus a moment to realize Regulus was waiting for his answer. “That sounds fine, thank you.”

Regulus chuckled. “Shocked you, did I? Getting my hands dirty?”

“Not…quite. But I admit, it was an unusual image,” Severus admitted.

“Let’s just say that being all alone made me make a lot of adjustments. Though it took me a few years to really realize I’d have to fend completely for myself.” Regulus moved to the stovetop and gave the pan on top a stir. “I’m starting to think that all Wizarding children should have to spend at least a year out here in the Muggle world, so that they really understand. It was quite an education, really.”

That was more than Severus had expected. Obviously being alone had made more than physical changes in the other man. “So you no longer believe in pureblood superiority?” he asked slowly.

Regulus snorted, then moved to retrieve a couple of plates from a cupboard over the sink. “I only just echoed my mother’s words. I never thought about what they meant. Not until…” He went silent, and Severus understood. He remembered how he’d felt, the first time Lucius had taken him “Muggle hunting.” Likely Regulus had gone through something similar.

“I understand.”

Regulus turned to look at him. “You would, wouldn’t you? We were so sure…” He sighed. “Is it really…over?”

“The war?” Regulus nodded, and Severus scowled. “Yes. For good.”

“Are you…sure? I mean…the Prophet said he was dead before…”

“Potter destroyed his horcruxes.” Severus had known by the end. He’d had suspicions during Dumbledore’s last year alive. And he’d seen the way Voldemort had reacted after Potter and his friends had been found with the sword. And Regulus’s reaction only confirmed it. He’d turned away quickly, but not before Severus had seen the grey eyes widen. Regulus had known. Had that been why he’d left?

“So…he’s really gone, then,” he said softly.

Severus nodded. “I’m certain Potter made sure of it.”

Regulus glanced at him, frowning. “Potter? But…the Prophet said he’d been killed.”

It took Severus a moment to realize Regulus meant the elder Potter, and not the brat he’d had to deal with for the past seven years. “His son. The ‘Chosen One.’ When our ‘Lord’ went to kill him, his spell backfired, and he ended up in limbo for thirteen years.”

“Figures that Potter’s son would be the one to save us… Potter always was too full of himself not to father a god…”

Severus snorted. “Believe me, I think the boy believed it, too. It was all I could do to keep the bloody fool from killing himself before he could grow up enough to do what he’d been meant to…”

“I can believe it. With an ego like that, how can he help but pass it on?”

The two men were silent for a moment while Regulus served up their supper, handing Severus the plates to take to the table, then moved to pull a bottle of wine from the cooler. “Wine? Or I have less alcoholic beverages, if you prefer?”

“Wine.” If Severus was going to talk about these subjects, he knew he’d need something to dull the pain. He had hoped never to even think about them again, but Regulus deserved to know. “Please.”

Regulus nodded, then pulled out two wine glasses and poured them each a glass, carrying them both and the bottle to the table. “I haven’t thought of all this in so long…” He sat down across from Severus, pausing before meeting his eyes. “I’m sure everything has changed?”

“Not as much as you would think,” Severus said, taking a sip of the wine before beginning on his supper. “The people in charge are still blind, and while I’m sure those who followed Him are no longer able to cause trouble, you and I both know how many supported him without joining him… I am certain it will erupt again eventually. Just with someone new at the head.”

Regulus scowled into his glass. “I had hoped…” He sighed. “But it only got worse after I left. Even with Him gone. All those trials…Sirius…”

That drew a scowl from Severus. As far as he was concerned, the elder Black brother had gotten just what he’d deserved. “Yes, well…it all came to naught. They all escaped once he returned.”

“All?” Regulus’s fork had paused halfway to his mouth. “Even…Sirius?”

“The Muggle news didn’t carry his escape here? That was before He returned. Dumbledore and Fudge did everything they could to keep him from Potter…all to no avail, of course…the boy was notorious for finding his way to trouble.”

“Did he…hurt him?” Regulus sounded as though he didn’t want to believe it, which made Severus scowl deeper.

“Surely you would have some clue how your brother was, Regulus?”

“I never knew he was one of us. After that…I wasn’t sure what I could believe any longer.”

If there was one thing Severus had never wanted to do, it was to defend Sirius. And yet now, that was exactly the position he found himself in. “He didn’t do it. It was all Pettigrew.”

“But…Pettigrew died.”

Severus’s scowl deepened. “Unfortunately not. At least, not then. Potter and his little friends were all animagi.” Well, not Lupin, but Severus wasn’t about to break that promise again if Regulus didn’t know.

“Even…Sirius?” Regulus asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes. Your brother was a rather mangy black dog. Fitting. Forever licking his…” Severus sniffed.

Regulus was silent for a long time before meeting Severus’s eyes. “So…where is he now? Did he get a new flat?” Severus could hear the restrained excitement in Regulus’s voice, and felt his stomach fall when he realized the other man thought his brother still alive.

“Regulus…he…fell. Protecting the younger Potter from himself.”

“‘Fell?’” Regulus looked as though he’d been punched.

“I’m sorry.” It was the only time he’d actually meant the words in relation to Sirius.

“I…” Regulus stumbled to his feet, swallowing thickly. “I can’t…” He glanced at Severus, then stumbled toward the hall on the other side of the room. When he did not return after several minutes, Severus cast a few spells to take care of the remains of their supper and clean the dishes. When Regulus still hadn’t returned by the time he was finished, he decided that perhaps he should just go back to his flat. It seemed the other man needed time to grieve.

Severus didn’t see Regulus for almost two weeks after. And by the time Regulus came to find him, he’d begun to believe that he wasn’t likely to see the other man again. So it was a shock when Regulus turned up in his classroom near the end of class one day, standing by the door until Severus had dismissed his students.

Regulus waited until the room had emptied before moving to Severus’s desk. “Sorry about the other day…”

“No need to apologize. I am sorry you had to find out that way.” Severus began to pack his bag.

“I was thinking…maybe I could make it up to you?” Regulus asked.

It was an unexpected offer. “It isn’t necessary.”

“It’s a poor host who deserts his guests. Please. Let me take you out somewhere neutral, at least?”

“If you wish,” Severus said slowly. “This evening?”

Regulus nodded. “This was your last class, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. I do have papers to mark, though.”

“They can wait, can’t they? At least until after supper?” Regulus shot him one of those bright smiles he’d been so well-known for in school—at least, among the Slytherins. He’d always used them to get whatever he wanted.

Severus sighed. “I suppose so. Where should I meet you?”

“I’ll walk with you. Easier that way.”

Severus had his doubts, but he didn’t voice them. Instead, he nodded, then led the way from the room, closing and locking the door behind him, then walking down the hall to his office. Regulus chatted about his team much of the way. How proud he was of the boys, and how well they were doing in their matches. Severus was quite grateful to get to his office so that he could have an excuse to shut the man’s words out.

Regulus waited near the door, looking around the room. “You need a bit of decoration in here, you know…”

“I’m fine with it like this. It’s calming. I do not need a room full of bric-a-brac to distract me. I have enough to deal with as it is.”

“Oh? Like what?”

Severus shot a bemused glance toward Regulus, who was now watching him intently. “Like the busy bodies who seem to think I have somehow mortally wounded you because of our little exchange at the party.”

Regulus winced. “Sorry about that.”

“Dare I ask what you told them?” he asked, unable to keep from smirking.

The reaction calmed Regulus, and he smiled ruefully. “To be honest, I can’t recall for certain. Something about an old classmate, I think…”

Severus chuckled. “Likely they thought me a bully for wounding their poor coach. Never mind that you could break me over your knee, I’m sure…”

“I doubt that very much, Severus. You might not look strong, but you survived there. I didn’t. I’d say your strength far outclasses mine.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Spare me. I heard all about my strength from that fool Dumbledore for years. I’d like to forget more than I can even be sure I’d remember.” He closed the drawer to his desk, then locked it up. “So…are we going?”

Regulus watched him for a moment before nodding. “Yeah. Let’s go. There’s a pub down the street we can go to that serves an excellent menu.”

“Lead the way, then,” Severus said, waving him from the room so he could lock the door behind them.

The walk to the pub was silent. Or rather, the two men were silent as they walked. The students around them were loud enough to drown out much of the conversation they could have had, anyway. Regulus seemed lost in thought, and Severus was inclined to let him think. Spending time with the man had meant facing a few of his own demons after returning home the last time they’d had supper together. He found he wasn’t looking forward to that again. Perhaps he could find a way to distract Regulus from the subject of the Wizarding world?

The pub was crowded, and it took the two men several minutes to find a free table, and even more to flag down a waitress so they could order. The noise level kept conversation to a minimum, which pleased Severus. And being in public meant that there were few topics they could cover about the Wizarding world anyway.

There was some sporting match on the telly, and Regulus’s eyes kept darting toward it. Severus had a fleeting impulse to ask how the game worked, exactly. It looked somewhat like Quidditch, and yet not at all at the same time. Severus considered asking Regulus to explain it, then realized that even if the explanation made sense, he’d not be able to hear most of it, as the noise of the place drowned out anything softer than a full-on shout.

Their food was delivered, and Severus focused on his supper. Regulus kept looking up at the screen, particularly when the crowd cheered a particularly good play or goal. Finally the game finished, and the crowd began to disperse.

“Sorry about that. I’d forgotten about the match tonight.”

“It was fine,” Severus responded. It had meant that he hadn’t had to talk about subjects that would upset either of them. Hopefully that wouldn’t change now that the game was over.

“It must seem strange to you. My fascination with Muggle sports?”

“Not particularly,” Severus said. “Sports were one of the few things you had in school where you seemed in your element, and not simply who you were in relation to…others.” Hopefully they could avoid unpleasant topics, at least, Severus thought.

Apparently, though, Regulus disagreed. “Sirius and I…we had our differences, but…he was always my brother.” He looked down at the table. “Did he…suffer?”

This was not how Severus wanted to spend his retirement—talking about Sirius Black. He scowled. Still, it was hardly Regulus’s fault his brother was a bully. “No. It was very quick, from what I heard.”

“What you heard? You weren’t there?”

Severus shook his head. “No. I wasn’t at the battle. I had…other things to attend to.”

“I’m sorry,” Regulus said. “You probably don’t want to talk about this, do you?”

A true enough statement, and had this been almost anyone else, in any other situation, he’d likely have agreed. But something kept him from being able to do so. He might not have liked Black, but Regulus had lost him without even knowing he had, and Severus couldn’t find it in his heart to be that callous. “If you wish to, then you are welcome. It isn’t a pleasant subject by any stretch, but sometimes talking does help.”

Regulus nodded slowly. “If…if you’re sure?”

Severus scowled. “I said so, didn’t I? If you do not wish to talk about it, I am hardly going to argue with you. Either ask your questions, or let us finish with the subject already.”

The harsh words brought a flush to Regulus’s cheeks. He stood. “Forget I asked.” He waved at the waitress, who moved to their table. “Cheque, please?”

She fumbled in the pockets of her apron, then handed him the tab for their meal. “Come again,” she said with a smile.

Regulus nodded at her vaguely, then pulled out his wallet, handing her a few bills, then grabbing his coat before turning back to look at Severus. “You know…you didn’t have to come tonight. Just say no in the future and save us both the trouble, okay?” He pulled on his coat, then strode out of the pub before Severus could say so much as a word.

When Regulus hadn’t reappeared to “talk” again by the time finals rolled around, Severus realized that the younger man wasn’t going to be the one to offer the olive branch this time. First, though, Severus had to deal with finals and negotiations with failing students. By Spring Break, Severus had all but forgotten.

At least, until he saw Regulus crossing the campus with someone. He saw Regulus glance at him, then look purposefully away, his arm going around the other man’s shoulders.

The sight brought Severus up short. He wasn’t entirely sure what the feelings running through him meant. The two of them had barely been acquaintances at Hogwarts. And after Regulus’s disappearance, Severus had barely spared him a thought. He’d been too busy with other things. And it wasn’t as though he needed friends… So why did the sight of Regulus with someone else make him feel…neglected? He was the one who had insulted the man, not the other way around.

Severus did a lot of thinking in the next few days. About what he’d lost in leaving the Wizarding world. He’d thought there was nothing left there for him, but maybe he’d been wrong. And maybe, having Regulus there to talk to would soothe that loss? Perhaps that was why he’d been so upset? Because Regulus had ignored him?

After days of thought on the matter, Severus decided that the only thing to do was to proffer another olive branch. Just to prove that he could apologize, if nothing else.

He wrote several messages to Regulus, all of which he discarded, realizing that they were too harsh in tone, then finally decided to seek him out during a training session so that the man couldn’t just run off. The afternoon was a bit damp, but the last of the rain had finished by noon, so Severus made his way toward the muddy field, and watched as the team ran the length of it and back, their socks and legs coated in the muck before they were done.

Finally, Regulus dismissed them, and turned to grab his satchel to go. Severus moved closer. “Regulus.”

Regulus spun around, then glared at him. “Are you fucking insane?” he growled. “Look. I left you alone. Please do me the courtesy of returning the favour.” He pulled his satchel onto his shoulder, then turned away.

Before he could leave, though, Severus caught his arm. “I’m sorry. I…did not mean to sound so harsh. It was not a subject I ever expected to revisit. Surely you can understand that?”

“I understand plenty, Snape. How my brother seemed to have a fascination with you that went beyond simple hate. Like you’d done something to personally hurt him, and no matter what, I could never compete. If the three of us were standing in the hallway, he only ever saw you. Whatever your problem with him was…just…deal with it yourself. And stop taking it out on me. I’m not him, and I never will be.” With that, Regulus tore his arm from Severus’s grasp, and stomped across the field.

Severus watched him go, mouth agape. What on earth did that mean? He’d hated Sirius, and Sirius had hated him back. Hadn’t he?

It bore thinking about, apparently. Certainly, there had been sparks between them, but they had hated each other. Completely and totally. Severus tried to ignore the fact that there had been dreams—first as a teen, then later when Sirius had escaped from Azkaban. They meant nothing, after all. Dreams were something he just couldn’t control. This had nothing to do with Sirius. So then…what did it have to do with?

Still…Severus wasn’t about to let Regulus go now. Not when his letters would likely have even less chance of getting through to him. He hurried across the field after the other man, catching up to him just as he turned the corner around the buildings holding the showers. “Reggie.”

He saw Regulus’s shoulders stiffen, and thought for a moment that the other man was going to ignore him, but then Regulus turned back. “What? I wasn’t clear enough? Drop it. Just…leave me alone, and I’ll do you the same favour. Or isn’t that enough?”

“No.” It was difficult not to unleash his temper, but the knew that wouldn’t help things here.

“No what? No it isn’t enough? No you won’t drop it? What?” Regulus was practically growling the words.

“No, I do not think ‘dropping it,’ as you say, will fix this. I am sorry I was abrupt about the subject, though I am sure you can understand why?”

“Yeah? Well, don’t strain yourself on my account. I’m sure I can deal with it another way. No need to feel any guilt about me.” The tone was bitter and dismissive. “Just leave me alone, Snape. I don’t need your pity.”

“Surely you knew enough about me when we attended school to know that pity was a foreign emotion to me?” Severus hissed back. “If I didn’t care to bother, why would I be here?” It was a question he had been asking himself mentally for a while now, and he couldn’t stop the question from falling from his lips.

The question left Regulus shocked. If Severus hadn’t already revealed too much, he might have run himself at that point, but then, Severus had only run once, and he wasn’t about to repeat that. Not now. “I…” Regulus looked like he couldn’t make head or tail of what Severus had just said. “You…never care for anyone, Severus. Why?”

Severus had to look away to hide the stab of pain at a fleeting thought of bright red hair and smiling green eyes. His tone was stiff when he spoke. “If I knew that, I assure you, things would be quite different. I came to offer an apology. And…” The words stuck in the back of his throat, suddenly meaning far too much for his own comfort.

“And…?” Regulus asked.

Scowling, Severus met his gaze. “To offer supper. You have. Twice. The least I can do is offer one in return.”

“Supper?” Regulus looked surprised again. “Sure. Where?”

“My quarters in the professors’ hall. I have a kitchenette.”

“You cook?”

“You think you are the only wizard who can learn to cook Muggle-style?” Severus asked, a brow raised.

That drew a smile from Regulus, and Severus felt his own lips twitch in response. “Of course not. Tonight? I’ll need to take a shower, but I could come around eight…”

“If you are willing,” Severus said, nodding, trying to fight the urge to grin.

“I’ll see you then,” Regulus said, nodding, a grin still dancing across his lips.

The two men parted company, and Severus hurried to his rooms to plan something for supper. He hadn’t expected this when he’d left in the morning, so he wasn’t sure if he had anything he could serve. Luckily he kept a fairly well-stocked pantry.

He hurriedly put together makings of a pot-pie, then changed out of his work clothes and tidied the place a bit while it cooked. He was just wiping down the counter when Regulus knocked on the door.

Severus ushered him in. “It’s not as comfortable as your home, but it will do, until I get my bearings.”

“Looks homier than mine did my whole first year,” Regulus assured him. “And I didn’t buy my place for years.” He sniffed the air. “Smells delicious.”

“I’m sure you will find my cooking quite up to scratch,” Severus said with a smirk. “Would you like something?”

“Actually…” Regulus drew a bottle from his pocket and handed it over. “I wasn’t sure what you were making, so I brought cider. I hope that will do?”

“Perfectly, actually. Let me just get some glasses…” He pulled two from the cupboard, then poured them each a glass, handing one to Regulus before sipping from his own.

“So…” Regulus said after a moment, looking suddenly awkward.

“So?” Severus was fairly certain he knew the man wanted to talk of his brother some more, but he wasn’t about to bring it up again if Regulus did not.

“I…suppose Bella thought that a great joke, hm? Sirius escaping only to die?”

“Mm. Indeed. More so because she was the one to cause it,” Severus said with a scowl.

“She was?” Regulus shook his head. “Never mind. It actually makes perfect sense. She hated him long before the rest of the family. He…took her glory. Until he was born, she was the only possible heir.” He scowled into his glass. “Makes a bit too much sense.”

“Pure luck,” Severus told him. “And his friends made sure she did not survive the final battle.” It wasn’t entirely true, but if it comforted Regulus, the small lie was worth it.

“Good,” Regulus whispered. His eyes had hardened when they met Severus’s once more. “I’d hate to have to break cover to hunt her down for doing it.”

Severus chuckled. “You would have, wouldn’t you? Despite how he’d treated you those last few years?”

Regulus shook his head ruefully. “I am a fool. But no. Even I know I’d never last against her. Still…it’s good to know she can’t hurt anyone else ever again.”

“I cannot blame you there.” The timer for supper went off then, and Severus pulled the pie from the oven, then served them each a good portion and sat with Regulus at his small dining table

They were silent for a few moments while they ate, then Regulus asked how Severus’s classes were going. The subject surprised him, as he’d assumed the man would want to hear more about the Wizarding world. Still, he wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to tear into his students. Certainly, they seemed more willing to think than the children at Hogwarts, but even so, many of them seemed to prefer chatting with each other and staying out far too late each night. It was one of the things he missed most from Hogwarts—being able to take points for idiocy. Still, pop quizzes helped ease that loss just a bit.

They spent much of the meal laughing over the idiocy of college students, then Regulus helped clear the table and put the rest of the pie into containers to store in the icebox, and then the two settled on the sofa, sipping at the last of the cider.

“Why did you leave?”

The question caught Severus by surprise, and he took a moment to answer. “You remember how it was when I was in school…”

Regulus nodded. “But surely things had to improve?”

“My…temperament doesn’t deal well with those who I…disagree with.”

Stifling a snicker, Regulus took a drink before answering. “You mean you flay them alive with your tongue? I always enjoyed watching you do that with others when we were in school. The look on their faces was always priceless.”

“If so, then you are the first to say so,” Severus said, bemused.

“Really? I can think of quite a few who said the same. But I suppose you’re not the most approachable man. So…you felt unappreciated, then?”

“Most distinctly. Teaching unappreciable children for unappreciable parents with unappreciable colleagues…and then to fall back into a role I had hated by the end? I was better away from it all. I knew it likely someone would try to do me in on one side or the other, so I took…precautions.”

“Precautions. So…everyone thinks you’re dead, then?”

“Quite. Nor am I likely to ever disabuse them of that notion. Even if I were to end up living longer than Dumbledore,” Severus said with a sneer. He downed the last of his glass, then stood. “I’m sure you can understand?” he asked, moving to clean the glass.

Regulus nodded, though he was quiet for a moment before he truly responded. “Still…if I thought I could, I would go back. But…there’s nothing for me there any more… Are you saying that there’s really nothing left for you there?” He stood and joined Severus at the sink, still sipping at his drink.

“Nothing,” Severus said. Perhaps too quickly, but really, it was true. Dumbledore was gone, Lily was gone, the Malfoys had each other, Potter was fine now that the Dark Lord was gone, and even all those who had bothered him from school were all gone—Potter, Lupin, Black and Pettigrew—each of them dead and gone. There was truly nothing holding him there any longer.

“So why even stay in Britain? Surely there are other places you might have felt more at home?”

It had been something Severus had given a great deal of thought, but truly, he knew nothing but teaching and magic. Though he had dabbled in Muggle sciences to better understand his own potions. It had meant that he had few options out here in the Muggle world. “And where else would I go? This is my home.”

“Yeah, that’s how I felt, too,” Regulus said softly. “I’m glad, you know.”

“Glad?” Severus asked. What did that mean?

“That you didn’t. That you came here. Even with our misunderstandings.”

“And why would you want me here, snapping at you constantly?”

“Well, not that bit, but…I’m glad you’re here, Severus,” Regulus said, squeezing his shoulder. “But…I should get going. Have another practice session tomorrow morning, and I have to get up bright and chipper so as to annoy the boys, right?” he asked, winking. He handed Severus the glass, then pulled on his coat. “I’ll see you soon, all right?”

Severus nodded slowly, watching the other man pull open the door and step out into the hall. He wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there before he finally shook himself out of his daze. It was the first time he’d felt like he belonged somewhere since Lily’s death. Mentally rolling his eyes at himself, he turned and washed the glass, then set it on the drainer and went to get ready for bed, his head spinning with thoughts, some welcome, and some less so.

Over the next few months, Regulus sought out Severus several times. Sometimes for lunch, sometimes for supper, and occasionally, Severus would return the favour. He even managed to attend a few of the matches Regulus’s team was in. Enough to begin to at least understand some of the rules to the strange new sport. It still made little sense to him, running around after a ball, but he felt he should at least support his friend.

After, he often treated Regulus to either a commiserating shoulder or a celebratory dinner. The Wizarding world became only an occasional conversation topic. More often their conversations turned to the college, or their students, or even the other faculty members. And Severus began to feel as though he had always been here, and it truly began to feel like home.

The true shift, though, came when Severus began to make plans to finally leave the country—just for the summer, of course. He’d already made his home here, and he had no intention of living anywhere else. Unfortunately, Regulus jumped to the conclusion that he was leaving forever when he saw the brochures—or at least, that was how he reacted.

“What’s this?” His tone was stiff, and Severus couldn’t understand why.

“Just trying to decide which location would be best. What do you think? Have you been to either? Venice’s history is fascinating, but Paris…”

“Does my opinion really matter?” Regulus was glaring down at the floor, as though it had somehow offended him. And where had that come from?

“I would not have asked if I didn’t wish to know. I’m sure you know that. What is wrong?”

Regulus scowled, then shook his head. “Never mind. Nothing. I’m sure you’d love either of them. I should get going…”

He was pulling on his coat when Severus caught his arm. “Regulus…what is going on?”

“I can’t… Just…I thought…maybe you liked it here. That you might…stay.” Stormy grey eyes met Severus’s confused gaze.

“I thought you would be pleased. I hardly want to become a prisoner here…”

“Prisoner? What do you mean? I thought…” Regulus turned away. “Never mind. Just go, then.”

“Not until you tell me what has caused this fit. It is not as though I am leaving tomorrow, Regulus. Why are you acting like this?” Severus put a hand on Regulus’s shoulder, but the other man pulled away.

“Because I’ve only just gotten to know you, and now you’re leaving.” Regulus looked as though the words had a foul taste to them, and his eyes were shut tight.

“You act as though you will never see me again.” And Severus was finding it not only confusing, but quite annoying, really. What was wrong with the man?

“You’d…let me visit?”

“Visit? Regulus…I will not be gone that long. Likely not even the whole summer. Granted, we have spent a great deal of time together in the last few months, but surely you can survive that long without me?”

“Summer…? I thought…” There were spots of colour on Regulus’s cheeks now. “I…didn’t mean…”

“To act like a mad man?” Severus asked, scowling.

“It wasn’t like that. I just…” Regulus looked liked he’d been punched in the stomach. But Severus was finished with this conversation.

“Either spit out what you mean, or get over it. Or leave.” His temper was suddenly quite frayed, and he did not want to deal with this any longer.

“I…” Regulus looked as though he was struggling with something larger than himself, and Severus began to turn away, but Regulus caught his arm, then lurched forward and kissed him, their mouths connecting awkwardly as he tried to avoid Severus’s nose.

Severus froze, his eyes going wide. Where had this come from? And then Regulus was pulling away, cheeks scarlet as he mumbled some excuse and ran for the door. He was gone before Severus could catch him.

Alone, all Severus could do was try to gather his thoughts. What had just happened? What on earth had prompted Regulus to do…that? He couldn’t stop himself from touching his lips at the thought, though. Nor from wondering if he would have responded if Regulus hadn’t pulled away so quickly.

The next few days were filled with a great deal of soul-searching. What did he want? What did he think Regulus wanted? Was this just an attachment because of their former life?

One thing did seem obvious to Severus, though. He wanted to try. But only if this wasn’t Regulus trying to replace something he’d lost. He’d been second or less too many times. He couldn’t afford to be less this time.

The problem was, now that he knew what he wanted, he had no clue as to how he could get it. Certainly, Regulus had kissed him, but he had since disappeared. Even Regulus's "guardian angels" seemed disinclined to answer when Severus asked if they had seen him, and the one time Severus thought he saw him across the square, the other man had vanished by the time he'd reached the spot where he'd seen him.

Finally, Severus got desperate enough to go back to Regulus's cottage. When knocking brought no answer, he used his wand to unlock the door after checking to make certain that no one else was in sight. He entered the house and closed the door quickly behind him, then looked around.

The cottage seemed tidy as always, and on the hob…a still-steaming kettle. He'd heard no noise, but obviously, Regulus had known just who was coming to call, and had decided to try avoiding him. Severus's nostrils flared. Well, he was going to get his answer, whether or not Regulus wanted to talk with him.

Though he had never been in Regulus's bedroom, he knew where it was located from repeated visits to the cottage, so it was easy enough to find his way to it. He was quite unsurprised to find it closed. He debated for a moment about knocking again, but decided against it. Either Regulus wouldn't be there, or he would, and would just ignore it once more.

Turning the knob, Severus pushed opened the door. Regulus turned away as he entered, and looked out of the window he was standing near. "Just…leave off, Snape. For what it matters, I'm sorry, all right? Now go away and leave me be."

"Perhaps if you would stop feeling sorry for yourself and actually talked to me, things might be better served?"

"Right. Because I want to bear the brunt of your temper. I know. I shouldn't have done it. I just…couldn't resist." He closed his eyes, turning his face away.

Severus pushed down the flutter those words caused. He stepped fully into the room, moving towards Regulus, and gently pulled his face towards him so he could meet his eyes. "Look at me."

Regulus's eyes were closed, but he opened them, and had a look on his face that stated quite clearly that he was only doing so under duress. "What? Have to have me watch while you eviscerate me?"

"Has it occurred to you that there might be some other response to what happened from me?" Severus asked him, beginning to wonder why he was bothering.

"No. I got no response from you that day. It was as clear as a bell, Severus. I'm just shocked you didn't try to hex me. Now, are we done, so I can wallow in my misery a bit more?"

"No. We are not done. You continue to place words in my mouth that have nothing to do with reality. Will you actually allow me make up my own mind at some point?"

That seemed to take Regulus by surprise. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you gave me no chance to respond, Regulus."

For a few moments, Regulus seemed unable to respond. Severus didn't bother to wait for him to gather himself. Stepping closer, he pressed his lips to Regulus's, keeping the pressure light for now. Perhaps Regulus would change his mind?

He didn't. He made a soft sound in the back of his throat, and then he was pressing forward into the kiss, a hand curling around Severus's shoulder. Encouraged, Severus deepened the kiss. It had been some time since he'd allowed himself the chance to relax and trust someone else so much, but he could with Regulus. Perhaps not with everything—not yet, anyway.

Regulus sagged back against the window, and Severus followed, pressing a hand against a pane, but pulling back quickly to regain himself. He straightened, then looked at Regulus. "Regulus?"

The other man met his eyes, face flushed. "What?" he asked softly.

"Why did you do it?"

Severus wondered if Regulus would answer. Especially at the look that flashed across his face. "I…" Regulus swallowed and tried again. "I didn't think about it. It just happened."

"Just happened? What? You tripped, and your lips just happened to land upon mine?"

Regulus winced. "No. But…I didn't mean to."

"What did you mean, then?" Severus asked, not sure whether to feel pleased that Regulus was interested, or annoyed that he'd been trying to ignore the interest.

"I'd thought…we'd have time to get to know one another. That we could take time, and that maybe…" His cheeks coloured, and he looked quickly away, the soft words stopping abruptly.

Even now, Severus had to hold tight to his control, hoping Regulus meant what he thought. "Maybe…?"

"How do you think of me, Severus? As a coward? A part of your past? A friend? Or…maybe something else?"

It wasn't exactly a simple question, and Severus gave in to his already-frayed temper. "What, exactly do you want me to say, Regulus? We barely knew one another before. And now…I am sure you are aware that I consider you a friend. What else could you want?"

"You," Regulus breathed, then pushed forward, his arms curling around Severus, a hand tangling in his hair. There was no tentativeness to this kiss, and Severus responded easily, his own hands moving to settle on Regulus's hips.

The room was utterly silent around them, and the kiss deepened between them, lips and tongues moving together for several minutes before Regulus finally broke away and met Severus's eyes once more. "Tell me you want this."

Feelings were dangerous things, and Severus had to struggle with himself—even to admit to himself he did want it, never mind admitting it to Regulus. He suddenly wondered how he had ended up here, but couldn't stop it now. "I would like to try." He would not guarantee he would manage, but after being alone so long, how could he resist when such closeness was offered?

“Just…try?” Regulus asked.

“I came to find you, did I not? That should give you some idea of what I think, Regulus.”

Regulus still looked a bit unsure, so Severus tugged him close, fingers tracing one high cheekbone as he spoke, softer this time. “Surely you can understand how difficult it will be to trust anyone, Regulus?”

“Yes,” Regulus said, sighing deeply. “But I thought…hoped…maybe we’d already gotten past that?”

“For me…the war just ended. It will take me time to trust again. But if I am to trust anyone, Regulus, it will be you.”

It was obvious that Regulus was trying not to look too hopeful. “I can wait,” he said, managing an almost-smile. “Just…don’t make me wait too long?”

Severus’s answer to that was to pull him close and kiss him again. He felt a bit drunk when Regulus’s lips parted so easily under his tongue that it was hard to pull back. It was gratifying that Regulus was at least as affected by the kiss.

“What…” He licked his lips, his eyes meeting Severus’s. “I thought…you wanted to wait?”

“There are some things I’m more than ready for, Regulus,” Severus responded with a smirk, his hand sliding down Regulus’s back. “Unless you are not?”

Regulus laughed a bit hysterically, then leaned in to kiss him again. “Wanted that since…the day you came to apologize. The ever-rigid Snape apologizing to a Black?” His hand came up, then stilled on the buttons of his coat. “Are you sure?”

“I might have made my life these last twenty years lying to everyone around me, but I also made certain never to do more than bend the truth, Regulus. And I promise you now, Regulus, if I tell you something, it will never be less than true. I want this.” More than he was ready to say just yet, but he could say that much.

Before Regulus could ask more, Severus kissed him again, guiding Regulus’s fingers to unbutton his clothes. Jacket, shirt, and soon even trousers fell to the floor. Then it was Regulus’s turn. Jumper pulled over his head, rumpling that always-perfect hair, and Severus couldn’t resist leaning in for another kiss at the flush that spread across Regulus’s cheeks.

Not speaking, Regulus led Severus to the bed, then pushed him down onto it and finished removing his clothes, straddling Severus’s hips before leaning down to kiss him. The touch of skin to skin was almost too much for Severus. He preferred not to think about how long it had been since the last time he’d allowed himself to be so vulnerable with anyone. He buried his fingers in Regulus’s hair, drawing out the kiss, almost scared to touch the expanse of softly bronzed skin.

Regulus moved against him, and Severus gasped as their cocks brushed together. His hand curled around a hip, and deepened the kiss. “Tell me…what you want?” he panted into Regulus’s mouth.

“Just…touch me…” Regulus panted back. “Please…”

It should have been the easiest request to respond to, but Severus felt almost frozen. Then he felt fingers curling around his cock. “Ah…god…Regulus…”

“Do you know how many times I imagined trying to break that calm of yours in the last few months? Always so buttoned up tight. Made me want to tear off your shirt and do this.” Regulus lowered his mouth to a nipple and sucked hard, and Severus couldn’t keep from crying out sharply.

Pulling away, Regulus looked at him once more, then sat up. “There’s something else I wanted, too, Severus. Something I’ve dreamed about so much these past few weeks…that I thought you’d never want…”

Severus growled and rolled them over, grinding down against Regulus and making him gasp and arch. “You talk too much,” he purred, then kissed him again.

After that, the two said nothing. Just moans and gasps and sighs. Severus knew it would be easy to get drunk on the noises Regulus made. And almost as easy to just let himself fall. But he couldn’t. Not just yet. But so long as they could have this, maybe in time, he would be able.

It was almost unreal to have Regulus under him like this, and when he pressed into him…it was all he could do to hold on. So tight. So perfect. Either he’d forgotten how good this could feel, or it had never felt quite this good before.

Even more intoxicating than the feeling of Regulus around him was the sight of him arching under him to meet every thrust. The soft, encouraging noises he made every time Severus moved. It was overwhelming, and it encouraged him to move faster, to take more. By the time Regulus came under him, Severus wouldn’t have been able to hold on any longer if he’d tried.

After they’d cleaned up, they stretched out on Regulus’s bed. “Come with me,” Severus said softly.

Regulus turned to look at him. “Where are we going?”

Severus chuckled. “No. Come with me this summer.”

“Are you sure? Severus, you don’t have to…”

“I do not say things I do not mean, Regulus. Surely you know that by now?”

“But…I assumed you wanted to go on your own.”

“Obviously that is not a requirement,” Severus said with a slight smirk.

“I’d like that,” Regulus said, looking not only pleased, but a bit relieved. “When do y…we leave?” he asked, chuckling a bit at his own slip.

“The Portkey will be ready the morning after the last day of classes.”

Regulus grinned. “I’ll be ready.”

* * *

Morning sun snuck through the folds of the heavy curtains and outlined the two figures on the bed, wrapped around each other. It fell across the eyes of one of the figures, and he stirred, squinting at the heavy drapes and scowling. They would obviously have to be changed.

He looked down at the man, still asleep in his arms, and envied him the peace. But hopefully his own peace would come in time. He leaned in and kissed the soft, tempting lips. “Regulus…”

Grey eyes blinked open, and a slow smile spread across Regulus’s face. “Morning,” he mumbled.

“Unfortunately. Too bad we could not have stayed away a bit longer.”

“I think the Chancellor might take issue with the fact that we didn’t show for the first day of classes, don’t you?”

Severus sighed. “I suppose we shall have to get up, then. But first, I intend to make certain I have one good thing to get me through my day…”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“You.”

Regulus smiled. “That is one thing I am happy to let you take as much of as you need.”

So what if they were a few minutes late to classes that day? So long as they were together, everything was right with the world.