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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Title: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~1160
Pairing: Severus/Harry
Content: Non-magic AU, pre-slash
Disclaimer: Not mine. They belong to JKR.
A/N: Unbeta'd. Written for my Snarry partner in crime, [personal profile] accioslash for her birthday today. Sequel to Two of a Kind, Falling Gently, and Stumble and Fall.

"Were you ever married?" Harry asked out of the blue as they sat quietly having a late afternoon cup of tea before Severus had to go to work for the night.

Severus supposed he should have expected it. He was a man of a certain age, after all. Nevertheless the question blind-sided him and he took a long while to answer.

"No," he said. "No, I was not." He looked at Harry then and saw him nodding thoughtfully. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I didn't mean to pry." Harry looked taken aback. "I apologise."

"No apologies are necessary. It was a harmless question."

Unless Harry followed it up, put two and two together. Perhaps he'd noticed how Severus had been looking at him since Harry moved in. Severus had tried to be discreet but once or twice he'd been caught out, eyes lingering just a little longer than was proper. Harry hadn't said anything. Maybe he was still putting the evidence together in his mind.

"I just—I just never really thought I'd be the marrying kind either."

"You do realise how that sounds, don't you?" Severus raised an eyebrow, curious whether Harry would take the bait.

Harry's cheeks turned a delicate pink and he ran a hand through his hair before scrubbing his hands over his face.

"Yeah, I do," he muttered into his hands. Standing abruptly, he turned toward Severus. "If it's all right with you, I'd like to stay the night again tonight and move my things out tomorrow."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Severus said with a scowl.

"Aren't you going to toss me out?" The sad thing was Harry looked like he believed Severus would.

"Sit down. Don't be absurd." Severus furrowed his brow as he watched Harry sit back down on the couch. Trying to get to the root of the problem—and distract Harry from any thoughts about Severus's own inclinations—he asked, "Didn't you say you had a falling out with your relatives?"

"Er, yeah." Harry took a deep breath and exhaled loudly, getting his breath before he began his tale. "My aunt and uncle took me in after my parents died, though they didn't really want to. Things were okay for a while. Or so I thought. I didn't really know another life, didn't know what a normal childhood was for anybody else.

"When I was eleven, things changed. I was sent to a technical school while my cousin went to a proper public school, cementing myself as the black sheep of the family. I was clearly different from other, good children, in their eyes anyway. They called me a freak. Unnatural. They wanted nothing to do with me.

"I was trouble at school, very nearly expelled several times. It wasn't until my seventeenth birthday that they tossed me out though. I suppose I should give them credit for that. I've managed on my own since then. I'm not complaining though. Things could be worse."

Harry sagged against the couch, clearly relieved to have unburdened himself on Severus. Severus was fairly sure there was more to it than Harry had said but he wouldn't push it for the time being. Instead he once again changed the subject ever so slightly.

"Why did you decide to take factory work?" Severus had always thought Harry was quite intelligent but the sort of person that didn't have time for books.

"I need to be moving." Severus had noticed Harry fidgeted a lot, which drove him mad, truth be told. He'd only mentioned it once or twice when the couch springs squeaked while Severus was reading or the chair at the table scraped the floor incessantly as Harry's leg twitched. "I could never have a desk job. And I'm actually quite a night owl, always have been. Not many places have my kind of schedule."

He grinned, the first smile Severus had seen since the conversation started. How was it possible a simple smile made that well of hope spring up inside Severus when he'd believed it was long dry?

The clock on the wall struck five and Severus stood and stretched.

"You're working a double shift again?" Harry asked, the note of concern in his voice did not go unnoticed.

"Generally when hours are cut in one area—" Here he inclined his head in Harry's direction. "—they are made up in others. I am a salaried employee as a manager so they think nothing of having me work sixty hours a week or more."

"Ridiculous." Harry scowled and Severus could almost imagine his own thumb gently smoothing out the wrinkle. Abandoning that inappropriate thought, he went to his bedroom to change his clothes.

When he returned ten minutes later, Harry had assembled his 'lunch'. Strange to call a meal that was eaten near midnight a lunch but that's what it was.

"That was unnecessary," he said gruffly.

"Oh, I don't mind." Harry was holding out the metal lunch pail and Severus couldn't shake the image of his mother fixing his father's lunch before he went to work.

How disturbing.

His father had worked many long hours and in retrospect that was probably a good thing as his parents fought regularly when he was home. He often wondered how they stayed married as long as they had. Perhaps it was true that fear of the unknown was stronger than fear of the known.

Shaking off his thoughts, Severus made a point of not touching Harry's fingers as he took the container.

"I was planning to pick up a few things at Tesco's," Harry said. "Anything you need? Porridge? Tea?"

Suddenly beyond uncomfortable at the domestic tranquility that seemed to be enveloping him without his consent, Severus looked him in the eye and nearly hissed, "I don't need you to play the part of housewife."

Harry stepped back, his face suddenly drained of colour. He looked as if he expected Severus to strike him.

Damn it.

"That was terribly rude, I'm—"

"No, it's fine," Harry spoke over him, drowning out his apology.

"Harry," Severus said, emotions coming to the surface though he tried to push them back down. "I appreciate your help."

"Right, of course. See you later," Harry mumbled and turned away, heading down the corridor to the bath, then shutting the door behind him.

A rock settled in the pit of his stomach but as he looked at the clock, Severus realised he had to leave. They'd need to sort everything out when he got back.

As he walked out the front door, Severus reflected on the comfortable little life he seemed to be developing and how, as ever, he would be the one to ruin it. With a double shift to look forward to, he had plenty of time to think. Maybe he'd be able to salvage something yet.

Pulling his coat tighter around him against the cold drizzle, he looked up into the grey sky and frowned.