"You lost." Harry spun on his heel, dragging his trousers back to near-decency and glaring at the intruder. Snape just carried on talking. "The school is in shock. His last match at Hogwarts and Harry Potter failed to catch the Golden Snitch."
"Go away," Harry said, quietly, turning back to the bench and folding his filthy scarlet robe over his broomstick. "You can gloat somewhere else. I'm not listening."
"You could have ended the match at any time," Snape pressed. "The Snitch was practically stalking you out there." Snape took two rapid steps towards him, as though to grab hold of him, but he did nothing of the sort. He never did, but Harry suspected that it was only a matter of time before Snape tried to shake him to death or something. He could barely restrain himself, if the flexing of his fingers was anything to go by. "You tried to throw the match."
"Gryffindor won, didn't we?"
"No thanks to you."
"No. Thanks to Malfoy." Harry allowed himself a small smirk, remembering the look on Malfoy's ferret-face as victory turned to humiliation, Slytherin cheers turned to a roar of anger and Gryffindor gasps to jubilant laughter.
"Hmm," Snape grunted, probably remembering the same thing, and Harry got the feeling that he was, once again, close to being strangled to death.
"He just had to get the last word. Even if it meant Slytherin losing the match. Why don't you go and talk to him?"
"You let him take the Snitch. Why?" Snape was impossible when he sat on his anger. At least when he was ranting you could have a good laugh about him afterwards. Harry quickly tired of trying to bait him and turned away, pulling a towel down from the rack and then fishing his half-empty bottle of Candida Croft's Charmed Cleansing Concoction (Sports Strength) from his bag.
"Maybe I felt sorry for him." Harry scratched his head, the roar of the spectators once again fresh in his mind. "I need to have a shower." Snape didn't move or respond and Harry, for the first time since he'd stepped onto the pitch, lost his composure. Snape's nearness was unnerving him, badly, as it had been all term. All year. Or was it before that? "The point of me using the staff changing room was so I could have some privacy," he said, letting the annoyance out; annoyance both at Snape's intrusion and the need for a private room. Not that petulance ever got him anywhere with Snape, but he did have permission from the Headmistress to be in the staff changing room and at no point had anybody mentioned sharing it with any of the staff while he was naked. Trainee flying teacher Alicia Spinnet had refereed the last three matches and Harry hadn't been the only one mortified when Snape, the undeniably biased Head of Slytherin, refused to defer to her neutrality for the final, citing his qualifications over her impartiality. Harry really missed Madam Hooch, who would have gladly kicked Snape into next Christmas for even offering to referee a Slytherin match in her place.
"Potter." Snape smoothed down his black and white robes, which had come through the match with the bare minimum of mud and blood. "You are the one who is in here under sufferance. Not I."
Harry gave a sneer to rival any of Snape's own and turned back to his kit, depositing his glasses on the bench.
"It's not like you broke a sweat calling bogus penalties, Professor. And your team still couldn't win, even with you cheating for them." Harry let out a short, hard laugh and toed off his thick socks, losing his balance slightly. Snape watched, unmoving and apparently unmoved, as Harry stuffed the muddy, sweaty socks into his equally disgusting boots. Harry had been expecting detention, at the very least.
"A Firebolt Ultima," Snape said, reaching past Harry, too close for comfort, and pushing aside the scarlet robe for a closer look at the famous broomstick. "Black spoils you."
"He loves Quidditch," Harry answered, through his teeth. After a brief hesitation, he stripped his sweater and t-shirt off over his head, almost elbowing Snape in the face in the process. Harry shivered a bit as the cool, damp air of the changing room raised gooseflesh down his arms and across his chest.
"Is that why you threw away your professional hopes today?" Snape asked, his long fingers caressing the polished mahogany a way that made Harry's mouth turn dry. "Because of Black?"
"I'm showering now," Harry muttered and, hesitating again, shoved down his mud-encrusted white trousers, bent to pull them off and strode into the shower room, still wearing his underpants. Harry had got over being shy in the showers when he was twelve, after a long and baffling man-to-man talk from Wood about broomsticks and team building. But he'd never had an adult watching him undress before, except for Madam Pomfrey who didn't count. It bothered Harry that he was bothered. Having Snape's eyes on him felt strangely like having taken a dose of Pepperup Potion. His ears burned and he felt squirmy and too warm inside, and he was glad to put the tiled partition wall between himself and Snape's eyes.
Harry hooked his thumbs beneath the waistband of his underwear, but a glance back at the changing room changed his mind and he reached, instead, for the shower knob. The water, instantly hot as always, hit him in the face and woke up his brain, and it was only then that he realised that his bottle of Cleansing Concoction, and his towel, were still lying on the changing room bench. He swore, pulling his head from under the spray and blinking water out of his eyes.
"Preparation is everything, Potter," Snape drawled, his arm appearing around the partition wall. Fortunately for Harry, the arm came without the rest of him, and with the bottle of Cleansing Concoction. "I tried so very hard to bang that particular truth into your thick Gryffindor skull, these last seven years." Snape had enjoyed that.
"Accio!" Harry snapped, glaring at the bottle, which shot into his outstretched hand with the force of a small Bludger. Or, rather, with the force of a wandless, temper-tainted Summoning Spell. "Ow," he added, quietly, and put his head back under the shower spray, drowning out Snape's inevitable comment.
He stood for a long time, not moving, just letting the water pound the top of his head and gradually warm and relax his sore muscles. Every now and again his spine crawled with the feeling that he was being watched, but when he finally turned to investigate the suspicion, Snape was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps Moaning Myrtle had found her way through the plumbing. Or perhaps Harry was just paranoid. Sirius assured him that it was perfectly normal to be paranoid when life had repeatedly proved that it was out to get you. Harry wasn't so sure and, anyway, paranoia didn't usually translate into a cheap thrill. Every time he felt those nonexistent eyes on his back, he felt his balls bunch with excitement. He shivered, turning back to face the wall. So what if Snape was watching him? Or Myrtle, for that matter. It wasn't like either of them could do much about it and it wasn't as if he'd have to face either of them for much longer, after today. Although Harry closed his eyes and reached for the bottle of Candida Croft's, his mind went stubbornly chasing after the fantasy, as if trying to make up for his complete failure to chase down the Golden Snitch earlier. Not that the thought of Myrtle doing anything about it did much for him but Snape, apparently, was another matter. His cock rose to attention at the first tingling touch of the magical soap, while his mind conjured the changing memory of Snape's pressing nearness, and his voice. Silken. Harsh. Shaking with passionate hate. His cock liked that. "Talk about desperate," Harry muttered, turning the water knob from hot to freezing and chilling the contrary sod into limp submission. It wasn't as if he'd kept himself pure due to a lack of offers. Witches and wizards of all kinds were clawing each other aside for a mere glance from Hogwarts' newest great hero. The world was his oyster. The attention and adoration had gone to Harry's head, for about two days. After that, he'd started finding private places to do just about everything that, once, he had unthinkingly done among others. Eat. Sleep. Study. Shower. Mourn. He'd applied himself with grim dedication to his schoolwork and had barely looked up from his books to notice who might be noticing him. But nobody could fail to notice Snape, even if all he did was watch.
Harry slowly warmed up the water again, wondering whether, if he stood there long enough, he could use up all the hot water and leave none for Snape. As he worked up a lather of vibrant yellow and orange bubbles, letting the tingle work deep into his pores, Harry smiled. Either the smile, his first in ages, or the Cleansing Concoction left Harry feeling invigorated and fresh, but his feet were starting to hurt on the ridged shower tiles and the minor annoyance of showering in his underwear began to resemble soggy, clinging discomfort. Reluctantly, Harry turned off the water and leaned against the wall to drip. Head bowed, he noticed that his clinging, wet underpants now left very little to the imagination. What Snape would make of it, with his perfect eyesight, Harry could only imagine. He stifled a groan.
"Pro-Professor?" he called, doubtfully. There was no answer. It was possible that Snape had got bored waiting and gone on up to the school. "I need a-"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Potter, but you did turn seventeen last summer? You are now an adult in the eyes of the law, and therefore supposedly able to manage a task as simple as bathing without help?"
Harry clenched his teeth, starting to feel cold.
"Please, could you just pass me a towel?" Harry requested, wrapping his arms across his chest and trying not to shiver.
"Shy, Potter? Such modesty from the hero of Gryffindor?"
"I'm not their bloody hero now, am I?" Alone with Snape and with only a pair of wet pants for moral support, Harry had just about had enough of the taunts and insults. "I missed the Snitch! Harry Potter let Slytherin's least talented take the bloody Snitch, from right under his nose! Give me a bloody towel!"
For a moment, as he caught his breath, Harry thought that Snape was going to comply; footsteps out in the changing room gave him a moment of optimism before it occurred to him that Snape might just as easily be on his way over to glare at him, or possibly curse him, and take enough points from Gryffindor to cost his House the cup.
"Is that why you tried to throw the match?" Snape asked, from somewhere near the dividing wall. Harry closed his eyes, trying to rein in his temper, and he could picture Snape there, fingers against the tile, nostrils flaring, dark eyes ablaze with rage...
"Fuck you," Harry whispered, not loud enough to give Snape another reason to deduct points. Then, louder, "Accio towel!" Harry left it to Snape to move if he was in the way. He felt grim satisfaction at hearing the faint 'flump' of fabric hitting something in transit, and the fainter 'oof!' from Snape. "I did ask nicely," Harry said, catching the towel and fixing it quickly around his waist, in case Snape came after it to curse him. Decent, and still cold, Harry strode into the changing room, grabbed a second towel from the rack and retrieved his glasses. Being covered and once again able to see the world clearly, Harry felt more at ease. Still, the back of his neck was crawling again and, reluctantly, he looked over his shoulder.
Snape was smiling, or as close to it as he ever came. Maybe he had thrown a curse of some sort after all, because Harry's stomach seemed to do a backflip and he felt chills that had nothing to do with the room temperature.
"How did you know that Malfoy would take the Snitch too soon?" Snape asked. Harry didn't mistake the apparent change of tone for a change of tactics. He knew the man far too well. Whether Harry liked it or not, Snape had come to know him too well over the years as well. He wouldn't take no for an answer and he wouldn't be satisfied with an easy lie.
"Malfoy's an idiot," Harry answered, pulling the towel tighter around his shoulders. Snape's unblinking stare was getting to him, stirring none-too-subtle echoes of how he'd felt in the shower when he imagined himself being watched. Snape's lips thinned with disapproval and Harry realised just how well he did know the man. He knew that Snape didn't disapprove of his sentiment, but of how he chose to express it. Test your conclusions, he told them all, constantly. Justify your theories. Explain, with footnotes and references. This year, in the numb aftermath of Voldemort's bloody defeat, Harry's Potions work had earned him an unbroken string of high marks. He was set to pass all his NEWTs with honours. "I hoped that he'd think with his broomstick," Harry said. "I knew he wouldn't pass up the chance to humiliate me, that he's got a big enough ego to put his personal victory before his team, or at least not think until it's too late. He proved that when he turned on his father." Snape's lips returned to normal and Harry's explanation was rewarded with a spare nod. "You should get the next Slytherin captain to pick a team on actual merit instead of purity of blood."
A muscle twitched in Snape's cheek and he finally stopped staring. He folded his arms and leaned back against the wall.
"And why did you want Mr Malfoy to take the Snitch?" he asked, his words unhurried and his voice making Harry come up in goosebumps all over again. It had happened more than once around Snape, in the last couple of years, but Harry didn't think about that. Often. "Did you have complete faith in Malfoy's lack of self-control, or were you prepared to see Gryffindor defeated to serve your own purpose?"
"Yes," Harry answered, unhelpfully. He and Snape had barely shared two words, outside class, since the fighting was done a year ago. It hadn't been so much a truce between them as a ceasefire; there had been no negotiation. Nothing had really changed. And yet it had. It had all changed. Harry had changed. Had Snape? Harry took a deep, unsteady breath and mastered his petulance once more. "I knew I could count on Slytherin. You lot think teamwork is a filthy word." He wanted to say more, could feel it building beneath his breastbone, but it wouldn't come. "I'm getting dressed now."
Snape didn't move. He didn't blink or give the slightest indication that he cared. Harry turned his back on him. Snape's questions could be like water torture, sometimes. Slow, steady, unavoidable torture and far worse than when he lost his temper. Most people broke down soon enough but Harry had been building up his tolerance, thanks to frequent exposure, for seven long years. Snape had even threatened him with veritaserum, once, but Harry had never been persuaded to tell him a real secret. Only, this time, he wanted to spill his secrets. He was almost grateful for the questions, for the stares, for Snape's brutal disregard for his legendary status. It was honest. It was real.
"You knew there were national team scouts in the crowd today?" Snape asked, his voice softer still. Not so much a question as a blunt dare to try lying to him. More menacing than ever, yet... something. Softer. Something. Was it pity? Harry sat down on the bench, keeping his shoulder turned towards Snape and trying to make the two towels cover more of him than they did. Not for the first time, Harry had the feeling that Snape could see straight through him.
"I knew. Sirius was excited. I... wanted them to see the others. Ginny has real talent. She could go all the way if she wants to. And she wants to," Harry added, his fist clenching around a corner of towel. "For Charlie." Once the words had started it was hard to make them stop.
"It was self-sacrifice, then? Gryffindor nobility, allowing your team mates to shine at the expense of your own career?"
"I don't have a career! I'm not Viktor Krum. I'm not Charlie Weasley! I'm not that good! They only came to see this!" Harry clapped his palm to his forehead, covering his world-famous scar. Whatever hopes he'd had that the mark would fade with Voldemort's death, and his notoriety with it, had died a bitter death in the months since then. "I'm tired of being everybody's team mascot. I'm tired of people whispering my name and staring at my forehead and of strangers who don't even look me in the eye because this is all they came to see!" Harry dragged his fingernails across his forehead, gouging into the damp skin, raking angry lines and pinpricks of blood across the scar. Flesh and blood beneath his nails. Harry's stomach heaved and he closed his eyes, not knowing what had possessed him to say all that, to Snape of all people. He struggled to take a steady breath and then another, and then Snape's voice stole his breath completely.
"Famous Harry Potter."
Harry twisted around and stared at Snape, who'd said those hateful words to him a hundred times - mocking, dripping cruelty, sneering, bitter, furious - but never like that, with his voice warm enough to melt ice and his expression nearer to compassion than contempt. As if he understood what the words meant.
"I..." Harry steadied his voice, the new marks on his forehead stinging as he pulled a bewildered frown. "I don't want to be remembered that way," he said, puzzled at himself, at Snape. Everything. His voice almost failed him. "I don't want to be remembered at all."
"I see," Snape said, after they'd stared at each other for too long. "Thank you for your honesty, Mr Potter." And with that he went about his business, ignoring Harry completely.
Numb, Harry watched Snape pull his usual black robes out of the teachers' locker and fold them neatly on the opposite bench; watched him select two large towels from the rack and take a small, unmarked potion bottle out of the old leather bag that, apparently, housed his Quidditch gear. Placing the bottle neatly on his stack of towels, Snape put his back to Harry and calmly discarded his black and white robes, hanging them from the nearest coat hook and briefly spreading out the cloth to check for damage. If he noticed that Harry was staring at him, quite aghast, then he obviously didn't care. Snape wore black beneath the robes; black sweater that fitted snugly around his throat, black trousers that were clearly tailored with broom sports in mind. Black socks, thick, turned down precisely over the neck of polished, well-worn black Quidditch boots. Only the row of silver hooks on his boots, and the silver whistle on a dark green ribbon around his neck, broke the monotony. When Snape planted first one foot and then the other up on the bench to untie his bootlaces, Harry stared, open-mouthed, as the black trousers pulled tight across his bony bum. Finally, as Snape pulled off his socks and untucked his sweater from his trousers, some sense of decency or self-preservation allowed Harry to tear his eyes away. He grabbed the towel from around his shoulders and began studiously drying between his toes.
Like Potter before him, Snape preserved some modesty on his way to the shower. Unlike Potter, he remembered to take his towels and lotion and, before turning on the water, he stripped and cast a spell that sent his trousers and underpants dancing back to join the other items on the bench. His lips quirked slightly as he imagined the look on Potter's face at the sight of clothes neatly folding and shelving themselves. Snape tilted his head to catch the hot spray with his face, then sighed with satisfaction as he allowed his head to fall forward and the water to pour down his back. Curse Malfoy, and curse Potter too, but the Gryffindors had played a good match. It hadn't been any false sentimentality that drew Snape out to referee the match, nor vindictiveness, though he'd certainly been tempted, but the suspicion that the Seekers might just take their last opportunity curse each other to death and take young Alicia Spinnet with them. They were both, it seemed, still able to surprise him; Malfoy with his blind ego, who had found no humility in humiliation, and Potter with his... his... Snape planted his hands against the wet tiles and opened his eyes. Potter with his cliched ideas of noble self sacrifice? Or Potter who had just turned his back on the glorious future that Black and the rest of the world expected for him? Yes, that. Potter, the only person in the world who seemed to share Snape's own view of him. Overinflated, underrated, overlooked, famous Harry Potter, who had finally attained manhood in seizing control of his own destiny.
It was about bloody time.
Snape uncapped his bottle and tipped the contents over his head. He worked the potion fiercely into his scalp, the action of his nails bringing to mind the fresh scratches across Potter's brow as the boy marked in blood his rejection of celebrity. And what would the world make of him now, of the more modest ambitions that lay behind that shallow mask of familiar heroism? The world needed that mask for its mascot, not the man himself. The man... Snape parted his lips in a sigh and tasted rosemary on the rinse water; closed his eyes and dropped his head back, relishing the momentary comfort of cleanliness. It never lasted. In his job, in his life, clean never lasted. Snape washed his body quickly, turned the water to cold to refresh his senses, then off. As he bunched his hair around his right hand and squeezed, turning the wet curtain of hair to a bunch of rat-tails, a prickle at the back of his neck warned that he was being watched. If only Potter knew the power of his own presence, he might have a better idea of what to make of himself. He could learn. He had proved in the last few months that he could, in fact, be taught. Snape turned, scraping the straggling wet hair out of his face in time to see Potter reach for the wall and his lips part in a soft gasp of surprise. At being caught? At his teacher's lack of modesty? Or...
"The Dark Mark. It's gone."
Or that. Snape's hand moved automatically to cover what was no longer there.
"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" he asked, acidly. Like Potter, he could easily do what was expected of him, and he could be damned convincing. Potter's open surprise turned to a guarded scowl.
"You were watching me," he said, his tone leaving little room to contest the point. Snape watched him, making good use of the silence and allowing Potter room to doubt or retract his accusation, to fumble an apology and ask for a detention. To flee for his life. Potter stood his ground, the only change a softening of his scowl as he absorbed the view, so Snape answered.
"So I was."
"Why?" If Potter held the wall any harder he was going to crack the tile. Snape snorted and strode across to the hook for his towels, wrapping one around his waist and slinging the other over his shoulder.
"There's honesty in nakedness. I told you that I appreciate your honesty."
He walked out, brushing past Potter and leaving him to think about it. Potter wasn't stupid and he'd been manipulated quite enough for one lifetime. Snape had challenged and disciplined the boy, given him no quarter, tormented him and taken pleasure in it, even threatened him with fates worse than death, but he didn't intend to join the ranks of Potter's manipulators. Any more than he planned to join those who, out of pity alone, had catered to the boy's unhealthy and growing eccentricities for the past twelve months. There was a great difference between seeking solitude and seeking oblivion. It was a difference that Snape knew intimately. He leaned forward to towel his hair, ignoring the returning sensation of being stared at. It was nothing new, after all. Potter had been watching him for nearly seven years. The meaning had changed, perhaps; the intent had changed and the boy definitely had, but the pattern was unbroken. Their mutual fascination.
"You... like me naked?" Potter asked. Snape made no answer. "I didn't- I mean, I've never-" Potter cleared his throat and Snape forced himself to be still, to wait. "You see me. You look me in the eye. You're the only one." Another nervous clearing of his throat. "I wanted to see you, too."
"And now you've seen." Snape turned around, slowly.
"You-" Potter's cheeks coloured pink and his fist clutched the towel tight at his waist, his gaze wavering. "It's what you came in here for isn't it?" he asked, speaking too fast. "Not to ask me about Quidditch. For this, for..." Snape's mouth had grown dry. Every man had his own idea of temptation and Potter, clearly, was tempted by what he'd been shown. "You see me," he said again, looking down at the tiles and then up at Snape, unblinking, eyes bright with... something. "You always have."
"Yes," Snape agreed. "You want that?"
"Yes," Harry admitted, his voice failing slightly. "You understand. Is this what you wanted?" He indicated his own bare chest, gestured vaguely down towards his feet, either modest or truly not realising the adequacy of his own assets. "You want me?"
"You find it so unlikely?" Snape asked, amused by Potter's tone. Of course he found it unlikely, and questioned it, and probably thought he was being set up for a fall, but that look on his face was still amusing. Allowing one more moment for the decision that had been brewing for seven years, Snape closed the distance between them and grasped Potter's upper arm. Potter stiffened and stared, surprised more than disturbed, and Snape turned him around to face the chipped old mirror behind him. "Do you see yourself, Potter?"
"Harry," Potter whispered, faintly, his eyes on the mirror but not on his own reflection. He was watching Snape's eyes. "I'm Harry." Snape couldn't restrain a small smile. It would irk Black if Harry learned that there were other options available to him, if his famous name had become such a burden. The law and Harry's circumstances entitled him to not only his father's name, but to use his mother's maiden name, or Black's own. Snape made a note of it, for later. There were all kinds of things to teach, if Harry proved willing to learn. The thought forced him to take a calming breath.
"Very well. Harry. Do you see yourself?" The frown returned, bunching up the weeping scratches across Harry's brow, but he looked.
"They... they say I have my mother's eyes," he said, uncertainly. "But that I look like my dad."
"True," Snape conceded, tilting his head to better see Harry's reflected eyes. "You do. Is that what you see?"
"You," Harry admitted, his voice low and quiet. He breathed deeply, making his shoulder catch against Snape's chest. Snape's hand tightened on Harry's arm. "I see you." Harry closed his eyes, sucking in a great trembling breath, and Snape took the opportunity to put both hands on Harry's body. Just his shoulders, to begin with. Careful. "Are you allowed to do that?"
"What do you think?" Snape followed his whim, easing his right hand down Harry's chest and over one convincingly taut nipple, the boy's shivering response quelling any doubt about his readiness to be approached. If only it would be so easy to disabuse the watching world of its expectations... but that was a different battle, and Harry Potter was trembling under his hands. Alive. Immediate. Real.
"I think I could get you fired over this." It wasn't very much of a threat, what with Harry easing back to bring them closer, his movements unstudied and quietly sensual. Enjoying the touch, if not the one doing the touching. "You deserve it, after all the times you tried to get me expelled." His shoulders brought warmth against Snape's chest.
"Your word against mine... yes. You'd win that battle, as usual." Snape stroked his arm, surprised to find that he was genuinely unconcerned at the prospect of betrayal and disgrace. An era was ending and Snape would be content to end with it. To rest at last and pass from infamy to obscurity. An ambition much like Potter's own, it seemed, and there lay common ground. Perhaps all they had. Perhaps not. He lowered his head, putting his lips near to Potter's ear. "I'd probably thank you." He suspected that it was his voice, not the words, that made Potter gasp out loud.
"What do you want?" Harry asked, pulling away and turning, awkwardly trying to keep his body to himself in the confined space between Snape and the looking glass, but by no means intimidated. Snape wondered if there was anything left in the world that could intimidate Harry Potter.
"I believe that should be obvious." Really, it was simple enough.
"Oh." The light, it appeared, had just dawned. Harry had looked Voldemort in the eye as he dealt the death blow, buried a dozen friends, endured curses and trials the likes of which his peers could never imagine. He had hardly expected a proposition to shatter the boy's nerve, after all that, but Snape was entirely unprepared when the brat just smiled. He had already allowed himself to picture every possible response, from horror to disgust to Avada Kedavra, but Harry Potter just smiled at him. One possibility that Snape had not considered was that he'd just given Gryffindor enough ammunition for months of open ridicule. "You watched me all year," Harry said. Snape wondered if he knew how he sounded, with that low voice expressing wariness and wonder. "Was this why?"
"I always watched you. I certainly wasn't anticipating this while you were five feet tall and covered in pimples." Foolish boy that he'd been, always ready to hare off on some new misadventure, put his trust in some wolf in sheep's clothing, sacrifice himself somehow. He got it from his mother's side, as far as Snape could tell. And all that before he'd been called upon to play his predestined part against Voldemort. All that which made him Gryffindor to the bone. "Things change. We change. I'll not see you despair now, after all the trouble I've been to. Take this or leave it and do as you will about my conduct, but don't even think about throwing your future away in a fit of self pity. Stop running from yourself and choose your path."
"That isn't very romantic," Harry said. That peculiar smile was still in place, but his eyes had grown brighter and wider with every word from Snape. "Something tells me you don't score very often."
"This isn't Quidditch," Snape informed him, starchily. "If you're interested in romance, I suggest Miss Weasley, or that Creevey twit. I offer something with rather more endurance and rather fewer strings attached."
"Such as?" Harry was warming to the negotiations, at least, shock giving way to guarded interest. Time to spell it out.
"Higher study next year, here, with me. Away, as far as possible, from prying eyes, publicity, Miss Weasley and that Creevey twit. Time to collect yourself." Harry's jaw dropped. "The personal arrangement is optional and strictly separate," Snape added, sounding as indifferent about that as was possible, given that he'd just been stroking Harry's nipple. He straightened up, giving the attempt to reclaim his dignity the full benefit of his height. "On the condition that your NEWTs are every bit as impressive as predicted, of course." Just in case there was any doubt that he was unwilling to mentor a lazy half-wit.
"Of course," Harry said, soberly, but that damned smile was threatening to break through at any second and his eyes were shining in a way that reminded Snape rather alarmingly of Albus Dumbledore's thousand silent 'I told you so's. But it was something alive, something not bereft of hope nor laced with weariness of the world. Snape considered that to be his mission accomplished. Knowing that he had been given a choice might be all the boy needed to get on with his life. For the first time, Snape wondered what he might do with himself if Potter took the other path and never looked back.
"I... I should come and see you about it, later," Harry declared, still managing to keep that smirk under control. Barely. Well, he could think again if he thought he had the situation under control or his teacher wrapped around his little finger. That hadn't been the point at all and Potter, more than he needed the opportunity to know himself in the solitude of the dungeons, or the solace of quiet company, or to be seen and seen through, needed a good kick up the backside. First things first. "After supper?"
"Yes, after you've explained your actions today to your godfather, the Headmistress and the whole of Gryffindor. You'll be very late indeed, Potter." Snape paused for breath, taking a long look at what he'd just let himself in for; skinny, short, strong, undeniably grown up Harry Potter, wrapped in a meagre towel and clearly trying to work out whether it was appropriate to flirt.
"Ten o'clock, my office," Snape said, managing to make it sound more like a detention notice than an invitation. Old habits. He found himself suddenly busy with his clothing, several feet away from Potter and that impossible, unexpectedly lecherous little smile of his. He at least had some Slytherin instinct for self-preservation, deep and unthinking, even if the rest of him had recently taken leave of his senses. "I suggest you keep this discussion private until you have made your decision." Not that it was necessarily a bad thing to lose one's mind, Snape thought, once more becoming aware of Potter's heated stare and fighting a smirk of his own. There was a distinct advantage to having nothing left to lose. Whatever Potter decided about staying or going, or about what the arrangement would be if he stayed, the news that he'd even considered it stood a fair chance of giving Sirius Black a heart attack.