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The Beating of This Fragile Heart

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Ministry of Magic Awards Dinner, December 1998

The first time Severus sees Harry Potter after the war, he’s flanked by Charlie Weasley who keeps a protective hand on the base of Harry’s spine as they negotiate their way to the champagne. A strange sensation twists in Severus’ gut and he takes in the way Charlie ushers Potter through the crowds. He observes every stroke of Charlie’s fingers over Potter’s back and the way he has to dip his head to murmur things in Potter’s ear. The private conversations seem to delight Potter, his lips parting when he laughs loud and clear, his cheeks flushing pink.

Charlie Weasley, dragon tamer and protector of Harry Potter. Severus supposes he's handsome enough, if you like brute force and endless tattoos which curl over defined biceps. His hair is more strawberry blond than ginger these days and he's tanned, freckled and healthy looking from his years abroad. Severus has heard plenty of rumours about Charlie. He knows that Charlie’s endlessly charming and a big fan of other wizards, for a start. Severus tries not to bristle at the intimacy of the careless fingers resting at the base of Potter's spine and the way their private conversations raise Potter’s only genuine smiles of the evening.

With a huff, Severus stops watching Charlie and focuses on Potter. His formal robes look expensive and fussy, like something a Malfoy would wear. It’s not that they don’t look good. To the contrary, Severus is alarmed to find his body reacting to the sight of Harry Potter dressed in his finest formal wear. Nevertheless, there’s something distinctly off about seeing robes like that on Potter. Despite the fact his jaw firms and he gives the room a look of quiet confidence, it’s as if he hasn’t grown into the robes just yet, caught somewhere between finding his way as an adult and still clinging onto being a child.

Severus observes the way Potter interacts with those gathered at the dinner. It’s the usual stuffy contingent of people seeking political gain by rubbing shoulders with the great Kingsley Shacklebolt and various other Hogwarts, Ministry and press glitterati. The room is full of the bravest and the best and Potter spends the night with a too-bright, too-wide smile plastered on his face as the press takes photograph after photograph. Charlie becomes a bodyguard of sorts, holding up his hand and stopping intrusive questions about Potter’s love life and post-war plans. Potter's already become quite the reluctant darling of the entertainment pages despite the fact his private life remains a closely guarded secret. Severus can't look at a paper these days without seeing Potter staring back at him, blinking through his glasses with a brittle smile on his face that doesn't quite reach his eyes.

When he’s awarded his medal, Potter keeps his speech mercifully short. He doesn’t stumble over his words but Severus knows enough of Potter to recognise the slight waver of uncertainty in his tone as if he still can’t believe a whole room can stand so quietly, just for him. Potter’s gaze wanders around the room as if he’s trying to find a familiar face to latch onto.

“I’m grateful to the Ministry for the work they do – to the Aurors who fight every day to keep our country safe and to the people who do so much behind the scenes without seeking recognition or applause.”

At that, Potter’s eyes find Severus in the crowd. His cheeks flush and his lip curves into a half smile, his eyes shining as he meets Severus’ gaze head on. A jolt of unexpected emotion leaves Severus unsettled. Of all people, he never thought he could be Potter’s friendly face in the crowd.

“This award isn’t just for me. It belongs to the unsung heroes. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them. For you.” Potter clears his throat, tears his eyes from Severus and the moment passes. “For all of you. Thank you.”

The crowd bursts into rapturous applause.

Severus pulls a face and makes his way outside without a backward glance.

*

Severus doesn’t turn when he hears someone settle beside him. He leans against the balcony and stares at the moon reflecting on the fountain in the heart of the gardens. The Ministry always hosts its parties in vast unplottable homes with sprawling gardens lit with floating candles and lanterns suspended with magic.

“They should have given you an award too,” Potter says.

“Indeed. Instead I was awarded two months in Azkaban and a grudging pardon at your insistence.” Severus still resents the fact he owes his freedom to Potter. If Potter’s here looking for Severus to worship the ground he walks on, he can bugger off. Even without Dementors, a spell in Azkaban changes a man and he can hear the sounds of the sea, wind and rain pummelling the dank walls before he goes to sleep at night. His imprisonment and subsequent interrogation have done little to assuage the bitterness and anger which consumed him after the war.

“I think they’ve treated you appallingly.” Potter’s robes rustle and he shifts next to Severus, his scent masculine, woody and familiar. Severus breathes it in and closes his eyes, the watery moonlight suddenly too bright. Potter has an uncanny knack for bringing back the kind of memories Severus spends a long time trying to suppress. “For what it’s worth.”

“Your opinion’s worth nothing at all.” Severus doesn’t need Potter’s pity or his political support. Severus needs to be left alone to drink enough champagne to make the tight knot of anger in his belly loosen enough to allow him to sleep without tossing and turning until the sun comes up.

“I see.” Potter sounds hurt by that. The silence stretches between them while the faint notes from the music drift outside, dancing on the still night air. “Still, I wanted you to know you have my support. It matters to me that you know that.”

“I suppose you expect me to be grateful?” Severus bites back a snarl and he carefully avoids looking at Potter. “I would prefer another glass of champagne and some peace and quiet.”

“I can get you a drink, if you like?”

Severus shakes his head and snorts softly. “Do be quiet. I don’t need to be waited on by Harry Potter. Go back inside.”

Potter lets out a low huff of laughter. “I didn’t follow you outside, you know. You’re not the only one who appreciates a bit of peace and quiet these days.”

Severus lets out a grudging grunt of acknowledgment. “The press is not minded to follow my every move. I have that to be thankful for, at least.” Severus risks a glance at Potter, whose face is shadowed by the night and the moonlight. He’s got a funny expression on his face and he’s staring out at the gardens, lost in his own thoughts.

“Would you like to go for a coffee one afternoon, maybe? I’d like to talk about what happened before the war.” Potter’s voice wavers, his uncertainty palpable. He speaks in a murmur as if he almost doesn’t expect Severus to answer – as if he’s practicing the question for someone else.

Severus swallows back the rush of interest which buzzes through him and he responds with a sneer. “No, Potter. I do not want to go for a coffee. I simply wish to be left alone. There is nothing you and I need to discuss, I can assure you of that.”

Potter stares at his hands, twisting them together. Up close, Severus can see the intricate silver spun lines in Potter’s dark, velvet robes. He dislikes them intensely from this vantage point. They remind him of Lucius Malfoy, Lestrange. They’re the kind of expensive robes worn by Pureblood wizards from old money backgrounds. They don’t suit Potter in the slightest.

“I’ll leave you to it then. See you around, Professor.” Potter musters a smile which doesn’t meet his eyes and gives Severus a nod goodbye.

Severus doesn’t respond and turns back to watching the reflection of the moon flicker and shift in the fountain, the scent of Potter lingering in the still night.

Ministry of Magic Awards Dinner, December 1999

“This is becoming something of a habit.”

Potter finds Severus again, a year later in the same space outside the Ministry where Severus tries to escape the crowds.

“A bit of an infrequent one.” There’s a smile in Potter’s voice and the rustle of his robes meets the cool whispers of the wind. “I picked up an extra glass of champagne. Just on the off chance. I thought I could drink it myself if you’re not interested.”

Severus grudgingly takes the offered glass, draining the warm dregs of his old glass and setting it to one side. “I suppose I should thank you. Alcohol almost makes your company tolerable.”

“Thanks.” Potter snorts with laughter and clinks their glasses together. “You too.”

“Is there a reason you’re spending your time in the shadows with me instead of dancing with your friends and countless potential suitors?”

“I like the shadows, sometimes. They're quiet.” Potter’s voice falters and he shifts close enough for Severus to feel the heat from his body. “Do you ever think about it?”

Severus swallows and he keeps his voice even. “No.”

“I do.” Potter’s voice is low. “I meant to thank you, for not pushing me away. I know it wasn’t what you wanted, not really. It could have made things difficult for you.”

“Yes.” Severus maintains a careful air of neutrality. The memory of sixteen year old Potter clutching onto his robes and murmuring please, please against Severus’ lips crops up in his dreams with alarming frequency. Potter was pliant in Severus’ hands, begging for something because I don’t want to die without knowing. I don’t want to die without feeling it. God, Professor. Please. Severus having been so long without affection of any sort couldn't resist taking his fill from Potter - handsome and eager in his arms and looking at Severus as if he might be something special. He might not have expected it, but that's not to say he didn't want it.

It's all he can do to pretend he doesn't want it now - Potter in his arms and dizzy with need. The small whimpers falling from Potter's lips still crowd Severus' thoughts when he's having a private moment. He finds himself reaching a desperately lonely completion with Harry's name on his lips more frequently than he cares to examine. Foolishness. He is a grown man, not someone inclined to pine after teenage boys who can't even grasp the finer points of Occlumency. The notion that Potter would have any desire to revisit that moment is ridiculous in the extreme.

Severus takes a long drink of his champagne, largely to steady the trembling in his hand and the rush of heat which burns through his veins when he remembers. Kissing Potter until he came – untouched, with a shuddering gasp in Severus’ arms – was the best and the worst moment of his sorry life. He had thrown Potter out shortly afterwards and consumed over half a bottle of firewhisky. He likes to think of the resulting hangover as penance, of a sort.

“I wanted it to happen. I don’t regret it.” Potter speaks, finally. His voice is rough and serious. "I know I was young, but I was old enough to consent. Old enough to know what I was doing."

“I, however, do regret it." Severus purses his lips and refuses to meet Potter's gaze, woefully unprepared to look at Potter's lips and remember them kiss-bitten and damp. "I was your Professor – it was unforgivable.”

“Don’t be soft.” Potter nudges Severus. “It was perfect. At least it was for me. I expect you've had better.”

“It was nothing more than a teenage fumble in an empty classroom. I was likely addled by the fumes from the potions. Don’t make it into some life altering moment.” Severus ignores Potter's suggestions that he has had better. Different, more experienced, older? Certainly. Better? Undoubtedly not. Potter doesn't even realise his own allure. He clearly doesn’t imagine for one moment that the memory of Potter lost in pleasure still has the power to make Severus' trousers uncomfortably tight, even now. Potter must have a romanticised notion of Severus' former lovers if he imagines Severus has had the pleasure of attracting that kind of pure, unbridled lust and heart-stopping want on many occasions.

“It was pretty life altering, though. For me.” Potter sighs and he withdraws, the heat of his body leaving Severus.

“What a privilege to be responsible for your queer awakening,” Severus mutters.

“You and Cedric Diggory.” Potter laughs but the sound is soft and tinged with sadness.

“Is that so?” Severus raises an eyebrow at Potter and he shrugs in response.

“Nothing happened. I just always liked the way he looked. I think I only realised why when I was more jealous of Cho than Cedric during Triwizard.”

“He was a good-looking boy,” Severus concedes.

“Yeah, he really was.”

“Speaking of handsome men, Charlie Weasley is conspicuous in his absence tonight. He was quite the useful bodyguard for you last year.” Severus manages to keep the bitterness from his voice, just barely.

“Charlie?” Severus can see Potter's brow furrowing and can imagine the careless sweep of his hand through his hair, making it messier than ever. “Nope, he's back in Romania then he's off to Australia for the holidays. We're friends. He's like a brother.”

“Are you quite sure he sees things the same way?” Severus certainly isn't about to acknowledge the wave of relief which follows Potter's words. “You make a handsome couple, in any event.”

“He’s not my type.”

“Have you decided you're heterosexual after all?”

Potter snorts. “Hardly. I'm as gay as you are, Severus.”

Severus hisses and looks at Potter, scowling. “Keep your voice down you insufferable little twit.”

“Don't worry. I'm not in the habit of gossiping about people. Surely you know that?” Potter frowns and then his expression smooths into a sad half-smile. “Maybe you don't. I should go back in.”

“It would be wise before I throttle you.”

Despite Severus’ words, Potter’s voice is light and teasing as if he takes such threats with a pinch of salt. “I don’t suppose that coffee’s an option is it?”

“Out of the question.”

“Thought as much.” Potter pulls a face and his eyebrows knit into a frown.

“You must have some men turn you down, Potter. I’m sure finding a companion for coffee and whatever else you might desire isn’t terribly hard for someone with your looks and influence.”

“You’d be surprised.” Potter meets Severus’ gaze head on, not even flinching. “Unfortunately the ones I’m interested in don’t seem particularly bothered.”

“What a pity.” Severus sounds as if he couldn’t care less.

“Until next time, then.” Potter studies Severus and then turns to leave with a shrug of resignation.

Despite himself, Severus catches Potter by the sleeve of his robes before he can leave. “These robes of yours are an improvement on last year.”

Potter looks down at Severus' hand on his sleeve, his throat working as he swallows. His burgundy robes are simple, elegant and classic. There's none of the expensive frippery of his old robes, just well-tailored lines which frame Potter’s lithe physique perfectly. His eyes shine as he contemplates Severus, the strange, curious look still lingering. He trails his eyes over Severus and his expression turns from sad to hungry, the look in his eyes leaving Severus somewhat breathless.

Potter nods and covers Severus' hand lightly with his own for a short enough moment for it to be dismissed as a mistake - an accident of their proximity. “Thanks. I like yours too.”

Severus drops his hand from Potter's sleeve and turns to the fountain and the quiet night without another word.

When he looks back over his shoulder, Potter’s engulfed by a crowd of Weasleys and he disappears shortly after.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Summer Alumni Ball, 2000

The air is crisp and clean and the heat of the day ebbs away as the sun dips low in the sky and the clouds turn to singed red and orange. As he often does at these events, Severus keeps his distance from the dance floor and the bits of the party which are the most raucous. The warm air soothes him and he finds himself slipping away to sit by the Great Lake as the sun sets and the flaming sky turns dark.

He’s lost in memories of his years at Hogwarts when a familiar rustling interrupts his thoughts, a twig cracking loudly somewhere to his left.

“Do stop lurking about, Potter.” Severus is calmer than usual in familiar settings with the night air still warm against his skin and he decides he can be charitable for once.

“I’m not lurking. I’ve been looking for you.”

“Is that so?” Severus focuses on something which leaves the water and dives back in, creating ripples which move outwards in watery ringlets. “We really must stop meeting like this.”

“It’s not like there aren’t other options.” Potter picks up a stone and sits next to Severus, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankle. He leans back on one hand and runs the stone through the fingers of the other, before drawing his arm back and releasing it. The stone skims across the water and Severus watches as it bounces once, twice and three times – eventually falling with a splash beneath the surface. “That coffee I mentioned, for one.”

“You seem fixated on ensuring I am properly caffeinated.” Severus flashes Potter a smirk. The sun has clearly gone to his head but for some reason he doesn’t find Potter’s presence as irritating as he usually does. He’s almost grateful for the company, pulling him back from memories of lonely days being shoved and pushed through the corridors as his books scattered around him.

“I wouldn’t want you falling asleep into your potions.” Potter sounds in a good mood too, his voice light and laced with humour.

“That’s hardly likely to happen.” Severus risks a glance at Potter, swallowing thickly at the sight of him. He’s in Muggle clothes which fit him nicely, smarter than usual but not overly fussy or ostentatious. His familiar cologne catches in the air and Severus breathes in the scent of him. He wonders how many people have kissed Potter after he’s eaten chocolate frogs – his mouth sweet and seductive. His gaze flicks over Potter’s lips as he remembers how they looked when they were plump and well-kissed.

“You're staring.” Potter's lips curve into a smile, his voice low.

“Am I?” Severus snorts and looks back at the lake, picking up a stone of his own to skim across the surface. “I doubt it.”

Potter shifts closer until their sides are pressed together. There's the faintest scent of vanilla about him and Severus rolls his eyes remembering the enormous ice-cream display in the middle of the garden.

“What's the matter now?” Potter's clearly watching Severus, his tone still carrying the same teasing note. When he exhales, his breath is warm on Severus' cheek. “You're rolling your eyes at me.”

“I'm rolling my eyes at the fact I appear to be at a party with ice-cream displays and twenty year old wizards who have the eating habits of a five year old child.”

Potter laughs at that, rich and loud. Severus feels his shrug as they sit, shoulder to shoulder. “I love ice-cream, chocolate, treacle tart. It's a good job I play a lot of Quidditch I suppose.”

“You don't strike me as the sort to worry unduly about your looks.” In truth, Potter has the kind of messy dark hair and wide smile that’s always knocked Severus for six. He’s got exactly the kind of toned physique Severus always envied and yearned for in equal measure. Potter’s raw, masculine energy combines with little awareness of his own looks and a complete lack of vanity. Together, it’s a disarming combination. Not that Severus would ever tell Potter as much.

Potter shrugs again and he hums thoughtfully. “I'm not really bothered. I just like ice-cream and Quidditch so it all just balances out. Life's a bit too short to worry about things like that, isn't it?”

“Indeed.” Severus knows that as well as the next person who risked their lives in the wretched war.

“I expect you hate today. Ice-cream, dancing – not to mention all the people from the Prophet. Why did you come?”

Severus furrows his brow, because he's not sure why he continues to go to events where he always finds himself alone in a crowd. “I have precious little else to attend these days. It seemed important to make an effort. Besides, they have a newly harvested batch of Mandrake roots. Pomona has promised to give me some ingredients to replenish my stocks before I leave.”

“Ah, it all makes sense. You're here for potions ingredients.” Potter lets out a disgruntled sigh. “And here I was hoping it might have had something to do with me.”

Severus snorts and sends another stone skimming out onto the lake. “If I had a list of reasons not to attend, you would be near the top.”

“Flattering, thanks Professor.” Potter huffs with laughter and then nudges Severus again. He smells like soap and when he speaks the sweet smell of vanilla assaults Severus' senses again. “I hear there's going to be some kind of firework display later. Sounds very romantic. Don't you think?”

Severus looks at Potter with a scowl, startled to find their faces so close. “Why on earth you expect me to be interested in romance-”

“I don't expect you to be - I'm only saying. I think I'd like to watch fireworks with someone.” Potter’s eyes flick to Severus’ lips and up again. The movement is so quick, Severus almost believes he’s imagined it. “Stuff often feels better when there’s somebody else to do it with.”

“Are we still talking about fireworks?” Severus finds his eyes settling on Potter's lips, oddly pleased when he pulls a laugh from them.

“I’m not sure we are. You’ve got me a bit distracted.” Potter licks his lips and raises his eyebrows giving Severus a look that's both fond and hungry all at the same time. Potter's face inches closer and for one appalling, heart-stopping moment Severus thinks he's going to find himself on the receiving end of another enthusiastic Potter kiss. Eventually, Potter pulls away and the moment passes. “Will you come and watch them with me?”

“People will talk.”

Potter frowns and shakes his head. “Let them.”

“Easy to say when you're the hero of the wizarding world. I can assure you when people talk about me, the rhetoric is quite different.”

“I'm not going to hold your hand or anything. I just thought we could watch the fireworks together. You might even have a good time.”

“I very much doubt that.” Severus huffs, cursing the heat he can feel rising in his cheeks. “Besides, I have business to attend to back at Spinner's End this evening.” There's a rising panic in Severus' belly and he wants to get away from this conversation before he finds himself on a road with Potter which has him making promises he knows he can't keep. “I don't intend to be here for much longer once I retrieve my potions ingredients.”

“Pity.” Potter's voice is quiet. “I'd have liked to have had a walk around the castle with you. Maybe go and see what they've done to your old quarters.”

“Why on earth would you wish to do that?”

“There might be a desk or something. Or some dusty shelves we can snog against.” Potter’s words carry less punch when they leave him with a rush and the tremor of a question, but they have no less impact on Severus. The idea of clandestine kisses with Potter sends a fierce rush of arousal through his body.

“Be very careful.” He turns to Potter – finally – his voice rough and ragged as he stares at Potter and fights the heat rising in his cheeks.

“I’m being careful. I’ve been three years of careful, give or take.” Potter’s inching closer, his sweet breath ghosting over Severus’ lips.

“Reckless little fool.” Severus can hardly speak now with Potter’s lips so close. The sweet scent of his vanilla-rich breath and the dizzying impact his proximity has on Severus is too much to be born.

Before Severus can say another word, Potter’s kissing him and all words are lost. It isn't the desperate kiss me before I die kiss of a teenage boy going into battle, but it’s no less urgent. It’s an altogether more practiced kiss of someone who's had a bit of experience and knows what might follow afterwards. Try as he might to resist, that thought makes Severus' blood boil.

Now firmly convinced he must be suffering from sunstroke, Severus responds in the only way he can when Potter's gripping onto him and letting out a soft whisper of Severus against his lips. He licks into Potter's mouth, catching the low sigh which escapes from Potter's lips as he parts them for Severus. Severus slows the kiss so it’s hard and deep, somehow befitting of the long, sunny day that went before. The slow, languorous slide of Potter's tongue against his own sends warmth flooding through his body as his hands tangle in the thick strands of Potter's hair.

Even though it should be impossible, the strands of Potter’s hair still seem warm from the lingering sunbeams. Potter's body is firm and hot against Severus and his hands find their way into Severus’ hair, urging him closer as he falls back onto the grass. With a low groan, Severus moves as requested until he’s stretched out over Potter and the length of their bodies press together. He can hardly be embarrassed about his own arousal when Potter’s state is obvious from the way he arches into Severus and slides his hands over Severus’ back as if they can’t be close enough.

Their mouths stay fused together as they shift and rock against one another. Severus can’t help but deepen the kiss, years of watching Potter and never being able to touch him crashing to the surface. He tugs at Potter's hair, moving his head back and exposing inch after inch of skin, biting and kissing his neck with a low growl. Eventually, when Potter's hands tremble on his shoulders and his breathing is rough and coarse, Severus captures Potter's lips again.

It’s the sound of voices floating towards them which pull Severus out of the moment just as Potter tugs at his outer robes. He yanks back from Potter, a wild panic overwhelming him.

“Wait, just-” Potter’s words are rough with emotion, his pupils dark and wide with arousal. His cheeks are flushed red and his hair is all over the place. His lips are plump and he looks as if he’s been thoroughly kissed.

They’re in public. They’re at an event crowded with press, surrounded by Potter’s friends. Severus is kissing Harry Potter with reckless abandon as if reliving some kind of clandestine and prohibited memory of a Professor’s relationship with his most problematic student. He can just imagine the headlines and it makes his stomach roll.

With a growl, Severus pulls himself off Potter and leaves Potter propping himself up on his elbow and giving Severus a questioning look. When Potter opens his mouth to say something, Severus shakes his head and speaks curtly.

“Not a word. Your friends are looking for you.”

He stalks off as quickly as he can to the boundary where he can Apparate from. It’s only when he twists through the air that the sensation of Potter’s eyes on him finally slips away.

Diagon Alley: Archibold’s Coffee and Books, Autumn 2000

When he’s enjoying a good book and an even better coffee later that autumn, Harry Potter is the very last person Severus expects to slide into a seat opposite him.

Potter is laden down with a pile of books and he drops them on the table as if he plans to stay for a while. “Hello, there.”

Severus keeps his expression smooth and arches an eyebrow at Potter. “There are plenty of other seats available, Potter.”

“I know.” Potter beams as if Severus is welcoming him with open arms, instead of directing one of his very best scowls in Potter’s general direction. “But I saw you sitting here and couldn’t resist.” He pauses and then continues lightly. “Perhaps we could have that coffee? I’ve only been asking you for three years.”

Severus stares at Potter, the memory of their last encounter at the Ministry flooding back in a rush. It’s very distracting making small talk with someone when you can remember the taste of their mouth and the heat of their cock pressing against your thigh. “Do you make a habit of repeating such requests on a yearly basis?”

“Only with you, apparently. You might as well give in. I’m even more persistent these days now I know what I’m looking for.”

Severus arches an eyebrow at Potter. “And what, precisely, is that?”

“Let me buy you a coffee and I’ll tell you. Surely you don’t want me sending you daily owls pestering you to spend half an hour with me? Besides, we're both here now. It's fate, if you ask me.”

“I didn't.” Severus tries his best to look appalled at the idea of daily owls. The thought of Potter sending him missives full of his peculiar brand of flirting makes Severus hot and cold all at once. “One coffee, Potter.”

Potter laughs and nods. “One coffee. What can I get you? I’m going to get a hot chocolate.”

“Of course you are.” Severus rolls his eyes and shrugs. If Potter wants to spend his Galleons buying Severus coffee, he’s not going to object. He’s quite comfortable in his seat and had planned to spend the afternoon with his book. He won’t be chased out of his favourite coffee shop by an irritating Harry Potter wittering on about Quidditch and being a fine, upstanding pillar of the community. No matter how rich his kisses might be. “Black coffee, no sugar.”

“Of course.” Potter grins and hops from his seat, moving to the counter with a whistle. Severus takes the opportunity to take in Potter’s lithe, toned frame. Even in ridiculous ripped jeans and an obnoxious red tartan shirt, Potter looks good. Since the first debacle with his expensive robes at the Ministry, Potter’s adopted an altogether more casual style – relaxed and comfortable. He wears Muggle clothes with easy confidence.

Of course, Severus doesn’t just see Potter at six monthly intervals. Severus knows all too well what Potter looks like these days because he makes his way into every paper that arrives at Spinner’s End. The press adore Harry and they wax lyrical about his appearance, using terrible phrases like boy to man and handsome hero in the text accompanying endless pictures. Since their last encounter Severus now knows how Potter looks when he twists into the clouds on his broom. He knows that Potter’s started to shop with Draco Malfoy on occasion, the two laughing together and laden with bags – Muggle for Potter and wizarding for Malfoy. Severus knows that Potter spends his evenings with Longbottom, Finnegan, Lovegood and numerous Weasleys. They drink from silver tankards of ale and Potter’s always laughing, his cheeks flushed and his smile broad.

Potter rakes his hand through his hair he looks back just in time to catch Severus staring. With a frown and a huff, Severus turns back to his book and pointedly doesn’t look at Potter again until he’s sliding back into his seat with a piping hot coffee and a ridiculous looking hot chocolate, piled high with whipped cream and marshmallows.

“Thank you.” Severus nods, curtly. He takes a sip of his coffee and studies Potter who licks some whipped cream from his thumb in an obscene fashion, his eyes locked with Severus. “That looks vile.” Severus pulls a face, despite the fact there’s something disarming about Potter sucking his thumb into his mouth and flushing as he watches Severus.

“It’s delicious. Want some?” Potter takes an enormous spoonful of the cream and marshmallows, pushing it towards Severus who holds up his hand with a snort.

“Absolutely not. Control yourself, Potter.”

“Sorry.” Potter doesn’t sound sorry at all. He’s still smiling as he spoons the mixture into his mouth and lets out a hum of pleasure. “’S really good.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Despite himself, Severus can’t stop staring at the way Potter’s tongue darts out between his lips and sweeps a little stray marshmallow from them. Potter really has improved with age, with his messy shock of black hair and the wide smile which seems to be a permanent feature. Eventually the smile dims and Potter pushes his spoon to the base of his drink to gather up some of the thick hot chocolate, seemingly more focused on his sugary endeavour than Severus. “You dashed off last time I saw you.” Potter keeps his voice casual, but his fishing around in his glass indicates he might not be quite as casual as all that. “I hoped I might hear from you after the party. Sprout - I mean, Professor Sprout - said you didn't even wait to get your ingredients.”

“Ah, yes. Thank you for that.” Severus inclines his head, remembering the flush of pleasure when the neatly wrapped brown parcel had arrived at Spinner's End.

Thought you might need these. HP.

“I wondered if we might start sending daily owls after that, but you're not one for regular correspondence are you.”

Severus has the distinct impression he's being teased and he glares at Potter. “You could hardly have hoped to instigate such correspondence with your note? It’s hardly the sort of owl which requires a lengthy response.”

“Nope.” Potter sucks his spoon into his mouth, his eyes locked with Severus. It's not something he should be allowed to do in a public place and definitely not something he should be allowed to do in front of Severus. “I didn’t think the owl needed a response. I thought all the kissing might have helped, though.”

Severus pointedly ignores Potter's cheek, muttering typical Gryffindor under his breath. “It was not all the kissing. It was one kiss.” One very fine, sun-blemished kiss, admittedly. But just a kiss.

“It could have been more than a kiss if you hadn’t Disapparated before I could say anything. I thought you were going to splinch yourself.”

“I told you, I had urgent business to attend to.” Severus glares at Potter, who looks far too innocent to be trusted. He definitely doesn’t allow his gaze to linger on Potter’s lips, pushing back the memory of how they felt, warm and sweet against his own. He imagines what Potter would taste like now - of whipped cream and marshmallows – and wonders if he's ever going to have an opportunity to kiss Potter when his mouth is peaty from firewhisky. “I had no desire to sit around with your friends gawking at the fireworks and exchanging kisses under the stars.”

“You wouldn't have had to sit with anyone. Just me.” Potter looks up, sipping his drink and giving Severus a half smile. “Besides, I reckon I'd have missed the fireworks for a bit more snogging if you'd wanted.” He leans forward, his eyes dancing. “Snogging and the rest. I'm not sixteen anymore, you know.”

Severus snorts and tries to quell the flush he can feel rising in his cheeks as he studiously avoids thinking too carefully about the rest. “Insatiable brat.”

“Maybe a bit.” Potter snorts with laughter and takes another large spoon of his cream and marshmallow. Severus wonders if there’s any hot chocolate in the mug at all. “This is nice, isn’t it?”

Severus glares at Potter. “I have no idea what you’re on about.”

“You. Me. Interacting like adults. Not shouting and stuff.” Potter waves his hand airily, dismissing the last ten years of animosity as shouting and stuff as if regret and bitter memories don’t occupy every bit of empty space when they’re together.

“I’m not sure nice is the word I’d use.”

“Well, you’re not shouting or telling me to bugger off. Which is nice.” Potter winks and Severus rolls his eyes heavenward.

“It may have escaped your notice but I don’t believe in making a public spectacle of myself.”

“Of course not.” A smile plays around Potter’s lips and Severus makes a valiant attempt not to stare at them too hard, imagining the taste of hot chocolate and marshmallow mingling with bitter coffee. He shifts in his seat. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”

Severus nods. “So you said. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” Severus hopes Potter picks up on the bored tone to his voice. He wants Potter to know he's barely indulging him, just in case he gets any more ideas about kissing and the rest.

“Funny you should say that...” Potter's fingers twitch perilously close and Severus yanks his hand away before Potter can instigate any kind of hand holding activity. Severus has no intention of being treated like a teenage witch with posters of The Boy Who Lived on the bedroom wall.

Potter’s eyes soften when he sees Severus pull his hand away. He looks around and then leans forward with a low whisper. “I'm not going to start holding your hand and snogging you in the middle of the coffee shop, you know. Nobody's watching us. I understand you like to keep your personal life private. I’m pretty fond of privacy myself.”

“Good.” Severus waves his hand to encourage Potter to continue with his story. "Please do share whatever it is that’s going on in that brain of yours, Potter. Have you decided to settle down with a nice witch and bestow the wizarding world with multiple mini-Harrys’ who can be just as obnoxious and annoying as their father?”

Now Potter glares, caught somewhere between mirth and mild irritation. “And you say I’m the dense one. I’m not sure how many times I have to tell you that there aren’t any witches. There never will be. I've actually been thinking about what I want from a bloke. Who I want, to be precise.”

An icy hand grips at Severus' heart as he waits for the so you don't have to worry more that's bound to follow. He sneers at Potter, largely to mask the way his stomach twists at the thought of Potter with anybody else. “I see. The arrogance of youth. I imagine you simply assume your chosen paramour is available and interested?”

“Not so much.” Potter shrugs and doesn't look particularly phased by the look Severus gives him. “He's a bit...prickly.”

“Because he doesn't immediately fall to your feet and kiss those ridiculous boots of yours, I imagine.” Severus snorts. How typical of Potter to expect anyone he might choose to come running.

“Not exactly,” Potter mutters. He takes another spoon of whipped cream and studies Severus. “Why do you think I want someone to kiss my boots, anyway?”

“I imagine it must be quite a thrill to be universally adored.” Severus studies his nails with a sniff.

“So you think I’d want to be with someone like that?” Potter mutters something that sounds impolite under his breath. “While I’m at it, why don’t I buy myself a throne and make up a stupid fake name for myself?”

“Stranger things have happened,” Severus mutters. “Fame does have a tendency to go to one’s head.”

When Severus finally looks up, Potter’s gaping at him. “You really are a complete arse, aren't you? You think I'm like Voldemort?”

Severus pinches the bridge of his nose. “No, Potter. I think you are an attractive, insufferable little twerp that currently has the world at your feet. If I were in your position I would take no small pleasure in extorting that to my advantage and selecting a partner – selecting several partners – who would do a lot more than kiss my boots if I so required.”

“Oh.” Potter stares at Severus and then a slow smile creeps across his face. “Yeah, that's where you and me are a bit different you see.” He leans forward and he dips his voice low, his eyes shining. “I’m not interested in several partners. It’s just the one, really. I’m also not all that keen on bossing people about. I reckon I'd like someone to tell me what to do for a change.” He leans back and he raises his eyebrows at Severus, finally taking a sip of his hot chocolate and licking the cream from his lips. The gesture leaves Severus’ trousers tight. “Being the attractive, insufferable little twerp that I am, I’m really quite demanding about these things.”

Severus huffs with displeasure. “I never said you were attractive.”

“You did, actually. Why don't we go back to yours and I can show you? I bet you have a Pensieve.”

“Nice try, Potter.”

“Just a suggestion.” Potter takes another long drink of his hot chocolate, pushing it away with a satisfied sigh. “So we've established this bloke I'm interested in definitely isn’t likely to kiss my boots or make a shrine to me or anything.”

“It appears so.” Severus tries not to think too carefully about the thought of Potter on his knees. “I expect I’ll read about your exploits with the lucky man in the entertainment news soon enough.”

“I bloody hope not.” Potter’s brow furrows and he lifts his shoulder in a careless shrug. “I’m looking for something a bit more than a quick shag in the loos at the Wizard and His Wand with someone who just wants to get their name in the Prophet.”

“What do you know about the bathrooms at the Wizard?” Severus clenches his hand into a fist and Potter responds with a sheepish grin.

“You know what goes on there, then? Of course you do. Well, I’ve had some experience and you know what it’s like when you’re on a night out after a few beers. I’ve done a bit of stuff with people, to see what it’s like. There’s plenty I haven’t tried though.”

The conversation leaves Severus’ mouth dry and he takes a steadying sip of his coffee. The thought of somebody else enjoying Potter’s body makes Severus irrationally angry, as if something just within his grasp has been yanked away from him.

“I absolutely do not know what it’s like after a few beers.”

“You’ve been there, though?” Potter’s nothing if not persistent. It’s really quite irritating.

“I’ve been gay and alive for a considerably longer time than you. It may surprise you to learn I have not lived the life of a monk.”

“It doesn’t surprise me at all.” Potter flicks his gaze over Severus and his lips curve into a smile. “I always imagine you’d know exactly what to do. Seems like it, anyway.”

Severus shifts in his seat at the insinuation Potter spends time thinking about Severus like that. “Kindly stop imagining anything of the sort.”

“Why?” Potter contemplates Severus. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Not in the slightest.” Severus snorts. “I very much doubt any of your childish fantasies could make me uncomfortable.” He hums thoughtfully, allowing himself the opportunity to drink in the sight of Potter under the pretence of trying to unsettle him. “I, however, could doubtless think of a number of fantasies of my own that would have you fleeing for the door.”

“I’d love to see you try.” Potter’s smile is broad and he tips his head to the side. “Do your worst.”

“I hardly think listening to my fantasies is the way to find the wizard of your dreams. I suggest you find somebody your own age to indulge you. As young and nubile as you are, I can’t imagine you have any difficulty finding eager partners. I hear Draco Malfoy is available. Oliver Wood. That Weasley of yours, the brotherly one.” Severus says it with a sneer because there was nothing brotherly about the way Charlie Weasley stood by Potter's side that first night at the Ministry.

“You mean Charlie?” Potter shakes his head. “I’ve already told you he’s a bit too close to home. Not to mention Gin would never forgive him, or me.

Severus snorts. “You’re clearly completely oblivious. I’m not sure why I’m surprised.”

I’m oblivious?” Potter laughs as if Severus said something particularly humorous and he shakes his head. “I'm young and nubile? Where the bloody hell do you get this stuff from, Severus?”

Severus arches an eyebrow at Potter’s casual use of his name, pressing on regardless. “You seem to have struck up quite a friendship with Draco of late and I believe he’s that way inclined.” Severus bristles and he looks down his nose at Potter. “Although I expect Harry Potter doesn't like to sully himself with anyone other than Gryffindors.”

“Did you really just suggest I shag Malfoy?” Potter shakes his head again in disbelief. “Malfoy and me are friends. He loves being single, he’s not interested in anything serious at the minute. Besides, I’m not really all that interested in blonds. Slytherins, however…”

A chill settles over Severus because if Potter’s kissing decisions are anything to go by, he can only imagine who he’s decided to pursue next. At least with Draco, Severus would be able to keep an eye on things.

“You have a lot of opinions about your ideal match for somebody with so little experience.”

“I’ve got enough experience to know what I want.” Potter leans back in his seat, contemplating Severus, a smile tugging at his lips. “He’s a bit prickly, like I said. He’s got dark hair, dark eyes…wears a lot of black. You know the sort. Someone who really likes clothes with buttons. Rows and rows of them.”

A strange ache worms its way through Severus’ body and clenches his heart until he’s nearly breathless with it. He’s willing to let the indignity of being described as prickly slide as a result. He's not a bloody hedgehog. “Do be quiet, Potter. I have no desire to become your teacher again. If you're looking for someone to experiment with, I suggest you look elsewhere.”

“I don’t know. This kind of thing could be mutually beneficial, don’t you think?”

Severus does think. He imagines taking Potter apart one kiss and stroke of his fingers at a time. He can only imagine how beautifully responsive Potter would be, writhing beneath him and perspiring. He retrieves his book and turns the pages without reading a word while the silence stretches between them.

Eventually, he thinks composed himself sufficiently to sound as if the whole idea is abhorrent to him. Instead, his voice leaves him in a low, sultry tone. “I would ruin you.”

There’s a hitch in Potter’s breathing and a low curse escapes through gritted teeth. “Yeah, I bet you would. Think I'd like to be ruined by you.”

“Foolish little idiot.” Severus looks up at last, taking in Potter’s pupils blown wide with arousal and the deep flush on his cheeks. “You have zero regard for the many ways in which I might take advantage of your considerable inexperience to satisfy my own selfish desires. You do not want a man such as myself.”

“I’ve imagined it, alright. I've been doing nothing but imagining how we'd be together for quite a while now. I might not have much experience, but I can be pretty creative when it comes to thinking about you.” Potter’s voice is low and husky and he stands, tugging his jacket on. “The thing is, Severus, I want it to be you. All of it. All the things I haven’t done yet. None of its half as good when it’s not you. Will you think about it?”

Severus wonders when he’s going to wake up from this bizarre world where Harry Potter offers himself to Severus for a thorough deflowering. He scowls at his book and answers Potter with a noncommittal grunt.

He imagines if the heat coursing through his body and the uncomfortable tightness in his trousers is any indication, it will be difficult not to think about it – however hard he tries.

*

Three days later, Severus opens the door to his home to find Harry Potter standing in the rain.

“Were you on your way out?” Potter shakes himself and lets out a yelp when Severus yanks him inside and casts a non-verbal drying charm which leaves Potter damp, rather than dripping.

“I was a spy for many years, Potter and you’re woefully bad at sneaking up on people. Is there any particular reason you’ve been standing outside my door for fifteen minutes?”

“Oh.” Potter has the decency to flush and he looks down at his feet. He’s wearing ridiculous canvas trainers which are still wet at the toe. Sometimes Severus wonders if Potter knows how to behave like a wizard when he’s not running around apprehending Dark Lords. “I hadn’t decided whether I was going to knock on the door yet.”

“I see.” Severus stalks into the kitchen to put the kettle on, assuming Potter will follow. “Am I to believe that I’m so intimidating to the wizarding world’s brightest star that a little knock on the door could defeat him?”

“I thought I might have heard from you by now.” Potter tips his head to the side and gives Severus a look. “I did sort of…”

“Offer your body for my pleasure?” Severus is nothing if not helpful, and he can’t resist a smirk at Potter looking bedraggled and fierce. It’s more charming than it has any right to be.

“Yeah, that. You bloody arse. An owl wouldn’t have gone amiss.”

“And what precisely was I supposed to say in this owl? Dearest Harry. I accept the generous offer of your youthful body. Kindly come round at five for your buggering. No need to bring flowers.”

Potter’s lips twitch into a smile. “That would have done the trick.”

“Of course it would have worked.” Severus rolls his eyes and busies himself making tea, largely so he doesn’t have to look at Potter’s rain-damp hair and wide smile. “You’re a horny young wizard looking to get laid. You have somehow managed to create an image of me as some kind of expert in matters of the flesh and you want me to scratch that itch for you because it’s becoming tiresome relying on your fantasies and your own hand.”

“That’s not what this is about.” Potter sounds like he’s frowning. “You know I don’t just want to get laid, don’t you?”

“Do I?” Severus snorts softly and shoves Potter’s tea towards him. “You suggested a mutually beneficial arrangement and challenged me to tell you about my fantasies making little secret of your own.”

“Perhaps the way I phrased it was a bit off.” Potter’s still frowning, blowing on his tea and steaming up his glasses in the process.

“You’re clearly eager for me to show you the ways around another man’s body. I did not get the impression I was being offered anything other than that.”

“You’re a daft bastard.” Potter yanks off his glasses with a curse and puts them on the nearest surface. “I’m not after a quick fumble in the loos, I thought I told you that. The only reason I wanted to know about your fantasies was because I want to know about you.”

“I suggest there are other lines of conversation you might want to pursue if that’s the case.” Severus rolls his eyes.

Potter moves a little closer to close the distance between them. He blinks at Severus and puts his tea down. “I might have done if you hadn’t distracted me with that voice and talk about ruining me. I can’t help it if I find you sexy.” Potter’s cheeks flush and he presses close enough to pull the air from Severus’ lungs in a whoosh.

Severus arches an eyebrow at Potter, his hand circling Potter’s hip as if his body is no longer connected to his brain. “You don’t find me sexy you foolish child.” Now he has one hand on Potter’s hip, he supposes the other may as well join it. He tugs Potter a little closer and preens a little at the huff of jagged air which leaves Potter’s parted lips.

Despite their proximity Potter seems able to keep his words steady for the time being. “I’m not here to learn my way around another man’s body. I’m here to learn my way around yours. Just yours. I’m here to learn the rest, too, if you can tolerate talking to me for long enough. I can’t remember what it feels like not to want to be around you.” Potter narrows his eyes. “That includes talking to you, by the way. Why do you think I kept trying to get you to go for coffee? I’d have given dinner a shot if you hadn’t kept turning me down.”

Severus rubs his knuckles along the line of Potter’s spine, making him arch forward. Severus studies his face and wonders if Potter’s telling the truth when he claims he’s wanted this for as long as he can remember. Every bit of Potter seems to react so beautifully to his touch, Severus can almost believe it.

“What is it exactly that you want from me?”

“Everything you’re prepared to give me. You tell me what you want.” Potter’s words leave him in a breathy rush, hot against Severus’ face. “Oh God.”

“I’m a jealous man.” Severus keeps Potter close, his fingers digging into Potter’s hips. Every word he breathes into Potter’s ear seems to leave him trembling. “I don’t share easily.”

“I don’t share either. I couldn’t. Not you.” Even in his aroused state, Potter sounds terribly fierce. He yanks Severus closer and his groan leaves him in a warm exhale. “I’m not going to tell anyone either, if that’s what you’re worried about. Not unless you want me to.”

“No.” Severus shakes his head and fists his hand into Potter’s hair, tugging at the strands. “I’m not a thing to be gossiped about at the Leaky Cauldron and I have precious little desire to see myself in the Prophet.”

“Yeah. I’ve got it.” Potter’s voice wavers slightly as if he wants to say something, but whatever words he was thinking of forming are clearly overtaken by his desire to dive into a kiss.

It’s like they’re back there in the small, dark room and Potter’s begging as if his life depends on it. Severus can feel Potter’s hands shoved into his robes and the memory of clumsy lips against his own comes flooding back. He can smell Potter’s arousal, the light scent of sweat and the now familiar woody cologne. There are potions bottles rattling in the shelf as they stumble back and the air is thick with dust and shadows, Potter pushing against Severus and their kiss is all tongue and teeth.

Now, the air is clean and fresh with rain. A light breeze from the open kitchen window caresses Severus’ cheek. When he finally brings his lips to Potter’s he tastes of hot, sweet tea and eagerness. He clutches his hands in Severus’ hair and pulls him into the kiss with reckless abandon. With a growl Severus moves them until Potter’s pressed against the wall, never once breaking the kiss. Little whines and whimpers leave Potter’s lips and soft puffs of Severus, Severus. It’s captivating and Severus is nearly dizzy with want.

“You’re utterly impossible.” Severus means to sound indignant but he fears it sounds fond if Potter’s smile against his lips is anything to go by.

“Does that mean you’ll take me to bed?”

Severus takes Potter’s hand with a sigh, trying to make it seem like an inconvenience and hoping Potter can’t hear the way his reckless heart nearly beats out of his chest.

“I suppose it does.”

*

It doesn’t take Potter long to divest himself of his clothes once they’re inside Severus’ room. He seems to go about sex the way he goes about all other things in life, with reckless impulsiveness.

“How do you want me?” He stands in front of Severus, the flush rising from his chest to his cheeks the only indication of his nerves and uncertainty in his nakedness. “On my back or my knees?”

Severus pinches the bridge of his nose, a useful manoeuvre to divert his eyes from naked delectable Quidditch players and war heroes. He counts to ten under his breath and then beckons Potter closer.

“I prefer to take my time if it’s all the same to you, Potter. Why don’t you come here and help me undress? We can take it from there.”

“Yeah, I like that idea.” Potter’s gaze turns hungry again and he licks his lips as if Severus is something to be devoured. Severus has had his fair share of men but it’s unusual to be on the receiving end of too many looks like that. If Potter was appealing before, he’s even more appealing giving Severus that look – naked and with damp lips that are positively begging to be kissed.

Severus feels Potter deserves some kind of reward for his bravery and he allows his gaze to rove over every inch of Potter’s body as he moves closer. As much as he claims to be irritated by it, he rather likes Potter’s confidence. He has the strangest desire to show Potter just how attractive Severus finds him. He lets his gaze travel rather obviously down Potter’s body where his cock is already hard, thick and long without being overly intimidating. Severus makes a pleased sound low in his throat – a rumble of appreciation – and he catches Potter’s hand to pull him closer.

“Here you are.”

“Here I am. It’s alright?” Potter gestures to his body and Severus isn’t entirely sure which bit he’s referring to. The idea that somebody could be unhappy with Potter’s nakedness makes him snort.

“More than. If your previous partners haven’t assured you of that, they are fools.”

“It hasn’t really been like this before with anyone. Naked. In a bed.” Potter shrugs and he presses against Severus, working open his shirt. There’s a slight tremor in his hands as he does so. “Nearly naked, anyway.”

“By all means do feel free to work on that.” Severus smirks against Potter’s lips and pulls him into a fierce kiss and oh that does the job of relaxing Potter very nicely indeed.

Harry rocks against Severus, grappling for purchase and tugging at his trousers and his shirt as if he’s desperate to feel skin against skin. When Potter opens his shirt, Severus slips out of it and drops it carelessly on the floor. He takes full advantage of being shirtless but still otherwise clothed and distracts Potter by stroking his fingers along the line of Potter’s spine, down, down, down.

When he finally gets his hands on Potter’s backside to press their bodies together with a squeeze, Potter’s practically panting into his mouth. Severus pulls back from the kiss and mouths along the line of Potter’s neck, steering him towards the bed until Potter falls backwards. He looks as though he’s going to say something, eyes wide and skin flushed.

Severus moves over him quickly to capture his words in another heated kiss. His whole body is sensitised to Potter’s particular way of kissing and the scent of his cologne, the feel of his warm skin and hot, flushed cheeks. The thought that Potter would come here specifically to give himself to Severus in this way is arousing beyond words. Eventually, he pulls back and strokes his fingers along Potter’s cheek. His voice is rougher than expected when he speaks. “You wished to say something?”

“Yeah.” Potter’s voice cracks but he manages to give Severus a very convincing glare. “I was going to complain about the fact you’re still dressed.”

“For now.” Severus slides his hand between them and lets out a growl when he wraps his fingers around Potter’s cock. Potter arches off the bed with a hiss, his words leaving him in a garbled rush.

“I can’t…gods, Severus.”

“You can’t what?” Severus squeezes his hand again, giving Potter another slow stroke.

“I’m going to…fuck…embarrassing.” Potter twists his head to the side and he closes his eyes, his cheeks now deep red.

Severus moves his hand from Potter’s cock and he slides his fingers under his chin, turning Potter’s face until their eyes connect once more. “Then do. You’re young enough to come more than once tonight.” Severus nips Potter’s bottom lip, tugging it between his teeth and when Potter settles he returns to stroking him slowly until Potter bucks up and throws his hand above his head, clutching onto the headboard as he lets out a ragged puff of air.

Because he’s nothing if not Slytherin, Severus squeezes the base of Potter’s cock and keeps his movements deliberately slow and measured. Despite his reassurance, he doesn’t want Potter to come over his hand. Instead he makes his way down Potter’s body and finally arrives at his prize. He flicks his tongue over the head of Potter’s cock and then engulfs him in warm, tight heat. He knows he’s good at this and he can only hope Potter’s previous fumbles have been with unexperienced wizards who don’t know their arse from their elbow. So to speak.

If Potter’s reaction is anything to go by, he definitely hasn’t had a blowjob quite like this. Curses fall from his lips and he rocks up so violently, Severus has to hold onto his hips to keep him steady. Spreading his fingers over Harry’s hips, Severus presses him down against the mattress and the very act of holding Potter down draws a gasp and a groan from above him. If Severus was able to speak he’d make a comment about Potter being so eager – so deliciously responsive – but instead he focuses on his task of making Potter come apart.

Potter comes quickly with a shout and another stilted jerk up into Severus’ mouth. His thighs tremble and whatever sentence he wanted to say stutters off into a low groan.

Severus pulls back and he takes the opportunity to strip out of the remainder of his clothes, catching Potter’s lips in a kiss when he returns.

“Wait…you’re….” Potter’s hand slides between them and he wraps inquisitive fingers around Severus’ length, drawing a hiss from Severus. “Oh.”

“Did you imagine I would stay fully clothed all evening?” Severus tugs Potter’s earlobe between his teeth and bucks into Harry’s fist. It shouldn’t feel so good to be on the receiving end of a few inexperienced strokes of his cock, but because it’s Harry every nerve in his body is automatically sensitised to the touch. It’s desperately good and it’s more than Severus can stand.

He runs his hand down Potter’s spine and murmurs in his ear, low and filthy. “Slowly. I want to come inside you and I don’t have the advantage of youth on my side.”

Fuck.” Potter has quite the mouth on him when he’s turned on and Severus rather likes that in a man. “Okay, then. Can I blow you?”

Severus bites back a groan and he shakes his head because he’s fairly certain once Harry does that, Severus won’t have the resolve to make him stop. “Later.”

Instead, he trails his fingers over Potter’s back until he reaches the very base of Harry’s spine.

“I haven’t…” Harry’s breath hitches and he presses back towards Severus.

“Hmm?” Severus murmurs a spell to slick his fingers and he trails them along Harry’s crease, stroking them over Harry’s hole. He keeps his voice low. “Not even by yourself?”

“I tried a bit. Not the same. Was going to get a toy.” Potter’s voice is so rough and god it’s music to Severus’ ears.

“Oh, you should still get a toy. I think I might enjoy watching you prepare yourself for me.” Severus flicks his tongue in Harry’s ear and he’s rewarded with a desperate groan of pleasure. As Harry tips his head for another kiss, Severus obliges and pushes a finger inside Harry up to the knuckle and then deeper still. He tries not to think too closely about the fact that in his state of arousal Potter is rapidly becoming Harry when the sound of his own name falls from Harry’s lips with a low whimper.

“God.” Harry pushes back against Severus as Severus slides a second finger inside him, watching the way his lips part with pleasure and his cheeks flush again – this time with pleasure and arousal.

“Perhaps…this…” Severus holds his breath, stroking his fingers inside Harry until the sounds falling from Harry’s lips are filthy and delicious, his hands clutching onto Severus and his kisses messy and unfocused. Taking Harry apart like this has long featured in Severus’ fantasies but the reality far surpasses even his wildest dreams. Every movement of his fingers inside Harry elicits fresh sounds from Harry’s lips, soft at times and louder when Severus focuses on the spot he knows from experience will leave Harry shaking and desperate.

“Please, I want you inside me. Going to come again…” Harry doesn’t seem so embarrassed this time, his words leaving him with a sheepish laugh. “Please.”

Harry begs so beautifully it really is a sight to behold. Severus slides his fingers from Harry’s body and slicks his cock, nudging Harry on his thigh. “It might be easier if you turn.”

“Oh.” Harry’s eyebrows crease into a frown and he hesitates before shifting over.

Harry.” Severus’ voice leaves him with a growl and he nudges Harry onto his back again, watching him closely. “I’m not a mind reader, or at least I’m not in the habit of reading your mind without consent. You’re to tell me what you want and if it isn’t this for god’s sake don’t be such an infernal Gryffindor about it. You do not have to be brave in the bedroom.”

“I just wondered if maybe I could see you. The first time.” To give him his dues, Harry keeps his focus on Severus despite the fact he’s flushing from his chest to the tips of his ears. “I want to know you know it’s me.”

The words dampen Severus’ arousal like a bucket of ice water and he stares at Harry. “You believe I’m in the habit of forgetting who I have in bed with me? Or perhaps you imagine I intend to close my eyes and think of Lucius Malfoy?”

Christ, Severus.” Harry glares and he has the same fierce look about him he had earlier. “Can we not mention Lucius Malfoy when we’re fucking? Ever again, if it’s all the same to you.”

Well, that’s pleasing at least. Harry has some taste, despite all indications to the contrary. “Is there a reason you think I might want to erase you from my fantasies when you wormed your way into those longer ago than I care to remember?”

“Oh.” Harry looks pleased, his eyes widening. “I’ve sort of railroaded you into it a bit though, haven’t I? Who doesn’t want a shag when someone comes round and pretty much throws themselves on someone?”

“Plenty of people, I assure you.” Severus sighs and he settles next to Harry, staring at the ceiling. “You wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t been entirely too willing to catch whatever you threw in my direction.”

“I’ve cocked it up a bit, haven’t I?” Harry brushes his lips to Severus’ neck, which begins to twinge uncomfortably.

“Not in the slightest. Perhaps it’s better we have this discussion now as I think it would have spoiled the mood even further if you had kept your thoughts to yourself and let me proceed regardless.” Severus winces and turns to Harry, who looks worried.

“Are you okay?”

“It’s simply the aftermath of my unfortunate encounter with the Dark Lord’s favourite pet. I take potions for the injuries and I may have missed the last couple of doses.”

“You daft prat, why didn’t you say anything?” Potter sits upright, huffing as he grabs his wand and tugs on Severus’ shirt and his own boxers. He swings his legs out of bed and scratches the back of his neck, before locating his glasses. “Where are they? I’ll get them for you.”

“It may surprise you to learn I mastered Accio several years ago. As challenging as I found it.” Severus rolls his eyes and reaches for his wand.

“Let me get them. I’ll make a cup of tea too. Please?”

Severus studies Harry, a strange fondness creeping over him at Harry’s peculiarities. “Very well. There are two bottles kept next to the tea so I remember to take regular doses.”

“As if you’d forget.” Harry grins and looks at the floor. “Where the buggering hell did I put my trousers?”

“Don’t bother finding them on my account.” Severus stretches out, letting his eyes rake over Harry and putting his hand behind his head as he watches Harry moving around. “I rather like you in my shirt and little else. Unless you’re particularly feeling the cold, I suggest you stay just as you are.”

“I will, then.” Harry looks delighted, and leaves the room with a bounce to his step.

*

After his potion takes effect, Severus pulls Harry close to him and gives him a long, deep kiss. It’s not long before Harry’s pushing against Severus again, his cock thickening against Severus’ thigh.

“Do you wish to try again?” Severus lets his fingers dance down Harry’s spine and he’s rewarded with another fierce kiss.

“Yes. Fuck, yes please.”

Good.” Harry tastes of hot, sweet tea and Severus is reminded of the first heated kiss in the kitchen. He takes his time preparing Harry with slow purpose, his own cock hard and leaking at the sight of Harry once again lost in pleasure. When Severus is quite sure Harry’s ready, he slides his fingers from his body and shakes his head briefly when Harry moves to turn. “No, Harry. Just as you are. I find myself keen to look at you too.” He gives Harry a smirk as he slicks his cock, watching the way Harry’s eyes widen and darken with arousal. “You do look rather good when you’re enjoying yourself.”

Harry’s flush deepens but he grins, reaching for Severus. “Are you going to fuck me or just look smug about the fact I’m obviously enjoying myself?”

Severus would pretend to deliberate, but it feels like he’s been waiting for this moment for long enough. He settles over Harry, pressing slowly into him, his words leaving him breathlessly. “Cheeky brat.”

Yes.” Harry arches a little under Severus, pushing back against him until Severus is fully seated.

“Harry.” Severus pulls back a little, just enough to look in Harry’s eyes. He grips his chin and then kisses him hard as he sees the slightly glazed look in Harry’s eyes. He breaks the kiss when he has to move and uses Harry’s low groans and whispered exclamations of his name to guide the angle until Harry’s coming undone beneath him.

Severus licks at the salty perspiration on Harry’s neck and pushes his leg back against his body as he pounds into him, losing himself entirely in the sensations and the urgency of Harry’s voice. Harry clenches around him with a shout and it takes him a moment to realise Harry has come, untouched. With a low groan, he nips at Harry’s neck and pulls back to look at him as he pushes through to his own orgasm. When it comes it hits him with overwhelming force and he bites down lightly on Harry’s shoulder as he growls out Harry’s name.

After a moment, he slips out of Harry and trails his fingers along Harry’s stomach to feel the damp, sticky come on his belly.

“So.” Harry’s voice sounds broken, husky and slightly awestruck. “That’s what it’s like.”

“Yes.” Severus swirls his fingers on Harry’s stomach and then raises them to Harry’s mouth. God, he looks thoroughly debauched with plump lips, red cheeks and his skewed hair which sticks up at all kinds of odd angles. “How did you like it?”

“Not sure what the fuss is about.” Harry’s wide smile is back, his eyes shining as he sucks two of Severus’ fingers into his mouth. He groans around them, licking his own come from them and then releases them with a pop. The sight is sinfully good. “Don’t you think?”

“Oh yes.” Severus can’t resist meeting Harry’s smile with a small one of his own. “It was rather average.”

“Can I stay?” Harry looks momentarily nervous and he shuffles closer to Severus on the bed. “I make a good bacon sandwich and I’m available for more average sex in the morning.”

“Well then, that settles it.” Severus tugs Harry close and whispers a cleaning charm. He can’t be bothered to shower now he’s sleepy and sated, but he also doesn’t want to wake up sticky and uncomfortable.

“Severus?”

“Hmm?”

“Night, then.”

“Goodnight, Potter.”

Severus falls asleep to the sound of Harry’s breathing, wondering if he’s going to regret giving his heart to Gryffindors with undeniable powers of persuasion.

Ministry of Magic Awards Dinner, December 2000

“Is it your intention to drive me mad this evening?” Severus yanks Harry into the bathroom and flicks his wand to cast a silencing charm around the small cubicle. “When we agreed not to attend this event together, I wasn’t expecting that you would read that as license to bring a date.”

“I haven’t!” Harry holds his hands up, confused. His expression relaxes into a smile when the knut drops. “You mean Charlie? He’s not my date. I’ve told you often enough that he’s not my type. He’s been good to me, that’s all. If you knew my friends you’d know he’s not interested in me like that – no more than I am in him.” Harry gets a dark look in his eyes and he presses Severus into the wall, stroking his fingers down Severus’ arm. “You know my type.”

Severus bites back a groan because when Harry gets in this kind of mood he’s damn near impossible to resist. He keeps Harry at a distance with a light press of his hand and glares at him. “Your friend would be wise to learn to keep his hands to himself. I wasn’t aware you still needed bodyguards at events like these.”

Harry gives Severus a look. “Severus, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if I had a bodyguard walking down the street. You know that. What I don’t need guarding from is Charlie bloody Weasley. You can’t have it both ways. People are going to make assumptions if I spend a large part of the night with somebody the press know is gay. You know that as well as I do. That’s why I’ve been avoiding you for half the night, on your insistence I might add. Charlie wanted to come tonight and he’s only home for a week. I didn’t think it would be a problem.”

Severus scowls and he folds his arms. The sight of Harry and Charlie deep in conversation and giving each other looks over their supper makes him more unsettled than he cares to admit to Harry.

“It’s a problem largely because you seem oblivious to the effect you have on people.” Severus swallows back another wave of anger. As much as it pains him to admit it, the situation has arisen largely because of Harry’s attempts to respect Severus’ wishes. “However much I might want privacy, I don’t have to enjoy watching other wizards paw all over you.”

“I don’t have to paw them back.” Harry’s frustrated tone eases and he presses close to Severus again, sliding his hand between them and palming the front of Severus’ trousers as he murmurs in his ear. “I could paw at you instead.”

“Insatiable little brat.” Severus drops his head back against the wall, pressing into Harry’s hand with a groan. “Although a little reassurance wouldn’t go amiss.”

“I’m sure it wouldn’t.” With a grin, Harry slides to his knees and works open Severus’ trousers. He sucks Severus between his lips with a groan of pleasure and works Severus’ cock with his mouth until Severus is fully hard. Harry is sinfully good at giving blowjobs. Tonight is no exception, and with Harry teasing him with his tongue and sucking him with practiced rhythm, it’s not long before Severus comes with a shout down Harry’s throat. He tugs Harry’s hair and pulls him up for a scorching kiss, keeping him close.

“I like these robes.” Severus mouths a path along Harry’s jaw and works his hand inside them to palm over Harry’s cock through his trousers, fully intending to return the favour. “The colour suits you.”

Another reason for Severus’ frustration has nothing to do with Charlie Weasley and everything to do with Harry. On this occasion Harry’s formal robes fit as if they were made for him and there’s something very Slytherin about the dark bottle green and the elegant cut. Unlike the fussy, fancy robes of the first awards dinner these ones are expensive but simple without ostentatious swirls and patterns. The material is rich between Severus’ fingers and he’s spent half the evening watching the way Harry commands control of the room with his robes clinging to the lines of his body. As much as Severus loves to watch Harry break apart under his touch, there’s part of Severus that craves the Harry he sees from a distance tonight – powerful, alluring and utterly magnetic.

“Wait…” Harry stops Severus’ hand by capturing it in his own and twining their fingers together. His voice is gruff and unsteady. “Can you…wait?”

Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry and squeezes his hand, putting his other hand on Harry’s hip to bring their bodies close together again. “The question isn’t whether I can wait, surely? The question is whether you can wait.”

“I’ve seen you watching me, you know. I know you’re jealous even when you’ve no need to be and I hate standing ten people away from you all the time, just as much as you do. I know you think I’m oblivious to people trying to get in my robes but if I’m bad, you’re even worse.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Potter.” Severus lets out a snort of derision. “I’m hardly the December centrefold of choice for Witches Weekly or three times winner of Wizard’s Choice Bachelor of the Year.” Severus can’t resist a smirk when Harry flushes to the tips of his ears.

One centrefold and it was for charity.”

“Of course it was,” Severus replies, not at all reassuringly. “I too find my naked form often comes in useful for charitable endeavours.”

“I wasn’t naked and stop changing the subject.” Harry speaks through gritted teeth, his eyes flashing. “You must have noticed the way Lucius Malfoy’s been hovering around you like a bad smell. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

Severus lets out a snort of laughter. “Lucius Malfoy is a buffoon. I trust you know I have better taste than that?”

“I know, but it makes me bloody furious.” Harry crowds into Severus’ space, pressing him into the wall and he runs his tongue over the scar on Severus’ neck. His voice is low and rough. “I’ve been wanting to do this all night.” He pulls back from Severus’ neck long enough to press their lips together with force. Harry’s kisses range from teasing, flirty things to urgent and needy – his breath coming in rough pants against Severus’ lips and his whole body pliant and responsive to every touch.

Tonight, Harry kisses like a man possessed. He takes control of the kiss and urges Severus deeper into it, licking into his mouth and murmuring filthy, glorious things against Severus’ lips. He’s Harry Potter the Auror and Ministry darling in his rich, expensive robes and his magic hums through Severus’ veins mingling with his own in a pleasurable fusion of warmth which travels the full length of his body.

“Is there any particular reason for this display?” Severus finally manages to speak when Harry breaks the kiss and he’s managed to catch his breath. “Something you’re looking for?”

Harry pauses and then he nods, once. He studies Severus closely and runs his fingers over Severus’ cheek as he gives him an intense, serious sort of stare. “Can we do things differently tonight? I know I said I didn’t like bossing people around much, but I’d like to be in charge tonight. I’d like to fuck you until I come and then I want to ride you until you come. Will you let me?”

Severus can hardly breathe at the images that brings to mind so he nods instead of responding in words. He has no objection whatsoever to Harry taking control and had rather hoped with a little more confidence and experience, Harry might be eager to voice his own desires in bed with more frequency.

“I want to look after you a bit in the morning too, if you’ll let me.” Harry’s serious tone softens and he speaks with a smile playing on his lips. “Suck you off, make you tea and toast in bed with the morning papers. That sort of thing.”

Severus rolls his eyes, because of course Harry wants a lazy, romantic morning after a night of shagging until they’re both tired enough to fall asleep standing up. The morning breakfast, the odd lunch and dinner are just as important to Harry as the physical side of things, Severus has come to realise. On that, Harry’s been true to his insistence that it wasn’t just Severus’ body he wanted to learn about.

“If you insist.”

“I do.” Harry gestures to the door, pulling a face. “I should get back to it. People might wonder. A couple of hours more should do it.”

“Indeed.” Severus watches as Harry’s shoulders tighten and he turns to look at Severus, his expression unusually serious.

“I know I said I’m pissed off with Malfoy being an oily git, but…don’t think that’s what this is. I want to do things a bit differently because I’ve wanted to try it for a while and tonight just felt like the right moment, because I hate being here and not being with you. I don’t want you to think you need to make me jealous if I don’t bring it up enough and it’s something you want more often. I hate being jealous. It makes me angry and sad and it’s not something that makes me horny at all. Just in case you were thinking-”

“I wasn’t,” Severus interjects. Harry clearly knows the way a Slytherin mind works and perhaps he’s even more astute than Severus gave him credit for. As much as he despises Lucius Malfoy the thought of fuelling Harry’s jealousy had crossed Severus’ mind, albeit fleetingly.

Harry comes back into Severus’ arms and he buries his face in his neck, warm and distinctly Harry in the circle of Severus’ arms. “I hate playing games. Let’s never do that.”

“I think I can agree to that.” Severus runs his hand through Harry’s hair, setting it back in place as best he can. “If you could avoid running off to Romania with that dragon tamer of yours too, I would be very grateful.”

It’s the closest Severus can get to anything like the kind of honesty Harry seems to manage on a frequent basis. While Harry blurts out everything he’s feeling, Severus takes his time to articulate measured thoughts and carefully constructed sentences. He keeps the fragility of his heart hidden from Harry, although he suspects there are moments when Harry sees deep inside him and it’s all Severus can do to keep from bolting in an effort to protect himself from the inevitable pain when things fall apart.

“Everyone seems to think I’d love working with dragons but that Hungarian Horntail put me right off.” Harry shudders and gives Severus a quick kiss. “No running off anywhere tonight, apart from Spinner’s End.”

“I’m pleased to hear it.”

“Severus?” Harry’s smile brightens. “Will you be on the balcony later? It’s our tradition, isn’t it?”

“Sentimental twit.” Severus rolls his eyes and nudges Harry towards the door. “I’m sure you’ll find me whenever you wish. You always have had an uncanny knack for discovering my whereabouts when I’m doing my level best to escape the crowd.”

“Pure coincidence.”

With a wink, Harry leaves Severus to the silence and his own thoughts.

Grimmauld Place, Spring 2001

The sound of Harry pleading crashes into Severus’ dreams on an icy wave of terror, cresting and mingling with his own memories of people begging for their lives or for the lives of someone else.

It takes Severus a moment to realise where he is and his wand is already drawn, with a hiss. After he’s scanned the room he realises the people Harry’s fighting against are the ones in his dreams. Severus knows from bitter experience how real that can feel in the moment and he flicks his wand with a sharp Lumos.

“Don’t hurt him, I don’t want you to hurt-”

Severus tugs a still kicking Harry into his arms. Severus is no stranger to nightmares and he recognises Harry’s vacant stare as he blinks up at Severus, his forehead damp with perspiration.

“Where…where am I?”

“In bed, at Grimmauld Place.” Severus shivers, the air in the room feeling suddenly cold. He wonders how many ghosts there are in this house and how Harry managed to sleep here alone for all of this time.

“Are we going to have to fight soon?” Harry’s voice trembles, young and uncertain. Severus isn’t sure where Harry is, but he knows he’s not here with Severus in Grimmauld Place. He’s just a boy again and he’s going to have to die to save the world. Severus swallows and a rush of emotion makes his heart clench. A desperate desire to protect overwhelms him, like nothing he’s ever felt before.

Harry’s expression brings a lump to Severus’ throat. Over the years Severus has seen a wide range of emotions from Harry. He’s seen furious anger, eager want and heart-stopping desire. He’s seen Harry resolute and determined, courageous and resigned. Of all things, Severus has never seen such naked fear from Harry. He wonders what lengths Harry had to go to in order to hide that fear from the people around him while they relied on a teenage boy with a relatively ordinary level of magical ability to go into battle with one of the most feared wizards of all time.

“No fighting, Harry. Not anymore.” Severus brushes Harry’s hair back from his forehead with a light touch. Harry’s scar is hot like the rest of his skin, a distinctive reminder of things past.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know…” Harry trails off again, confused.

“Relax. I’ve got you,” Severus murmurs. His lips brush Harry’s ear while Harry clutches onto him, drawing deep gulps of breath until his body trembles a little less.

“They hurt him. They hurt Sirius.”

Severus is sure many people hurt Black over the course of his too short life and he simply nods, his heart clenching as he looks into Harry’s eyes. “I know.”

“He’s not coming back, is he?” Harry’s eyes well with sudden tears and Severus shakes his head, wordlessly. He knows only too well how a death from a long time ago can creep up on you and slam into your mind again with enough force to make it feel like only yesterday.

“Would you like anything? A cup of tea, or a brandy?”

“I…” Harry furrows his brow as if it’s hard to think at the moment, and eventually he shakes his head. “I don’t want to get up and I definitely don’t want you to go anywhere. It’s warm here.” Harry presses against Severus and makes sure the generous duvet covers them both.

Severus has to agree that right now, there’s nowhere else he’s rather be. “Does this happen frequently?”

“Sometimes.” Harry shrugs and he rubs the back of his hand over his eyes. “I hate it. I feel out of sorts for ages afterwards.”

Severus swallows, thickly. He keeps his voice low and smooth, trying to regulate the pounding of his heart in his chest. He doesn’t want Harry feeling out of sorts after their short time together. “Out of sorts?”

Harry frowns at Severus before a flicker of understanding crosses his features and he lifts his hand to Severus’ face, stroking his knuckles lightly along the contours of Severus’ cheek. “Not with this. Not with you. With myself. It makes me feel out of sorts with myself.”

Severus can’t call back the puff of relief which escapes him. He tips his head to the side and kisses Harry’s palm, keeping him close. “How so?”

“I just get this restless feeling.” Harry speaks quietly, his cheeks hot. He looks anywhere but at Severus. “It’s like my skin itches, and I want to scratch it so hard it could bleed. I get lost in my head a bit and it’s difficult to get out sometimes. The nightmares keep coming after that. Eventually it goes away, but it’s bad for a while. Difficult to concentrate on work and stuff, hard to get up the motivation to see my friends because I’m not really sleeping. It’s not brilliant.”

“I see.” Severus runs his fingers along Harry’s arm until he shivers lightly. “Do you think there’s anything that might help?”

Harry’s breathing comes a little thicker and his eyes darken as he watches Severus. “Can you think of anything?” He pauses and flicks his gaze away from Severus momentarily. “I might have had some thoughts, but I don’t really know how it would work.”

Severus gives Harry a look. “It seems as though something has already occurred to you. Yet you never mentioned a thing. Am I supposed to read your mind?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Harry lets out a slightly choked laugh. “I didn’t want to spoil anything. I didn’t want you to think I was all messed up.”

Severus snorts and leans in to kiss Harry lightly. “Ridiculous boy.”

“I like it when you call me that.” Harry pushes closer to Severus, his cheeks hot enough that Severus can feel their warmth against his skin.

“Ridiculous?” Severus keeps his tone innocent as if he doesn’t know exactly what Harry means. He has a sense now, of where this might be going.

“The other thing.” Harry practically mumbles, his hips rocking forward into Severus just a little. “It makes me feel safe. Like you’ll look after me when I’m like this, maybe. Chase the nightmares away.”

Severus tangles his hand in Harry’s hair and tugs his head back, pressing his lips to his ear and speaking in a seductive murmur. “Do you want to be a good boy for me, Harry?”

“Yeah.” Harry’s breath leaves his parted lips, thin and reedy. “I like it when you tell me I’m doing something well.”

Severus notices the way Harry’s cheeks pink further, his cock now noticeably hard against Severus’ thigh. He moves his hand between them, murmuring a spell to leave his palm slick and he wraps his fingers around Harry’s length. The motion elicits a low moan and Harry bucks into Severus’ fist with a hiss of pleasure. “Good boy.” Severus smirks at the tremor that runs through Harry’s body and he slides his hand over Harry with a thoughtful hum. “What else do you think about?”

Harry’s voice falters as Severus squeezes his hand around his cock and he shifts his hand lower with a murmur. “Want to do you too.”

“You can, in a moment. I want you to concentrate on telling me what you want.” Severus presses a kiss to Harry’s jaw and whispers against his skin. “Keep your hands behind your back for me.”

“Oh, Merlin.” Harry wriggles in place until his hands are behind his back, his breath coming more quickly as he continues to buck into Severus’ fist with every squeeze and tug of his hand. “That’s good. When you tell me what to do.”

Severus hums thoughtfully, a thought occurring to him. He stares into Harry’s eyes which are dark with arousal. He keeps his voice low and he speeds up the movement of his hand until Harry practically mewls with need. “Do you want me to be rough with you on occasion, cub? Is that what you want?”

Severus. “Yeah, I want that.”

Severus hums thoughtfully and gives Harry’s hair another tug before sliding his fingers through the strands and working his fingers over Harry’s head until he’s almost purring and shuddering into his orgasm. He settles against Severus’ chest with a contented sigh and mouths over his collarbone, seeking out Severus’ neck and kissing along the messy scars which bloom starkly against Severus’ pale skin.

“I want to suck you. Can I?”

“You don’t have to ask.” Severus shakes his head and gives Harry’s hair another tug which draws a low whine from him. As Harry kisses his way down Severus’ chest, Severus runs his fingers through the thick strands of Harry’s hair. “Do you feel a little better?”

“What do you think?” Harry looks up and his eyes are shining, his cheeks flushed an attractive pink. He dips his head and nuzzles against the wiry hair above Severus’ cock. He runs his tongue over the length and sucks the tip into his mouth with a low groan before pulling back and looking at Severus briefly. “Now I want to look after you. Say thank you.”

“Be my guest.” Severus’ voice comes out rougher than he would usually like. He watches Harry and wonders what kind of things Harry might enjoy and how to make Harry speak about them with the kind of honesty he talks about his heart.

Then Harry takes Severus deep into the back of his throat and all of his thoughts melt away as he loses himself in the sensation of Harry’s mouth around him, listening to the sounds Harry makes and clutching onto the sheets.

He has the sense of something fleeting, something transient wash over him and it makes him press up into Harry’s mouth with a groan.

Perhaps, he thinks, this is what happiness feels like.

Cotswolds Hotel, Autumn 2001

“Do you ever think about telling people?” Harry’s breathless when he rolls away from Severus, catching his words with a gulp of air.

Severus’ mind is full of the scent, taste and sounds of Harry and sleepy arousal throbs through his body now sated and relaxed. “I thought we had an agreement.”

Harry pulls a face. “We do. I mean, it’s been good to take a bit of time to work everything out but it’s been nearly a year. We’re getting thoroughly shagged out in Muggle hotels. It’s serious stuff.” Harry turns to face Severus with a small smile. “I’m pretty sure I know where all the pieces go by now.”

Severus raises his eyebrows at Harry, wondering what he means by that. “I am hardly a puzzle that needs to be solved.”

“Aren’t you? I sometimes wonder.” Harry runs his fingers over one of the many marks on Severus’ chest, frowning as he sometimes does when something makes him angry and he’s going to charge off and try to save the world. “We don’t have to tell everyone, but I’d like my friends to know at least. Maybe Molly and Arthur, too.”

“I don’t see how it’s any of their business.” The icy dread Severus sometimes gets when he thinks about losing Harry grips him again. He’s often wondered what Harry gets out of their relationship and he doesn’t relish the thought of people forcing Harry to interrogate that too closely.

“It’s nobody else’s business, I just don’t like lying to my friends. I’m not suggesting we take out a big advert in the Prophet or anything. They know how to keep a secret.”

“You imagine it won’t all come out once we start being open with people in our lives?”

“Would it really be so bad if it did?” Harry shrugs, ever the Gryffindor. “I don’t care if people know I’m happy. Sometimes I think I’d like them to know. I don’t want to go to another Ministry Awards Dinner and watch Lucius Malfoy try to get into your pants. I don’t want to stay quiet and let everybody assume Charlie and me are together.”

Severus swallows thickly. “You knew what kind of man I was from the outset. Pandering to the press and going for drinks with my former students was never supposed to be part of our arrangement.”

“Our arrangement?” Harry stares at Severus. “Is that what we’re calling this?”

“What else would you call it?” Severus replies. His heart hammers in his chest and his hands are clammy. He resists the urge to shiver.

“A relationship, maybe?” Harry rolls his eyes and he throws up his hands. “Anyway, I’m your former student and you’re quite happy drinking with me – and the rest.” Harry sounds angry now, his eyes flashing as he looks away. “I’ve spent years hiding things from people – we both have. Don’t you ever just want to not have secrets anymore?”

“It’s what I do, Potter. I value privacy above all else.” The warm bed is suddenly cold and Severus too naked and vulnerable. He tugs on his trousers and shirt, standing and looking out of the window with his back rigid. Outside a Muggle couple hold hands and laugh at something in the distance. If only it was that easy for he and Harry. If only it was that simple. “Don’t push.”

Fine.” It doesn’t sound as though Harry thinks it’s fine at all and the silence stretches between them. Finally, Harry’s tone shifts to a lighter, softer note. “Why are you all the way over there? Come back to bed.”

But the mood has passed and Severus shakes his head, retrieving his wand and pulling on his cloak. “I have business to attend to at home. Some of us have to work in order to pay our bills. I can’t spend all weekend at expensive hotels without needing to work harder to pay for the privilege.”

Harry sits up in bed and stares when Severus meets his eyes. He makes a beautiful sight like this, his chest firm and toned and lightly tanned from the late summer sun. His hair is rumpled and haywire and his lips are plump from kissing, his cheeks flushed.

“Are you really going to do that? Start treating me like I’m my dad again, just because I’ve got a bit of money in my vaults?”

“You’re young. You can afford to gallivant-”

“This isn’t gallivanting. This is a weekend away with someone I happen to like quite a lot, actually.” Harry glares at Severus. “Although I’m not sure I like him that much at the moment. It’s what couples do.”

“It’s not what I do.” Largely because nobody has ever wanted Severus for long enough. Nobody has ever looked at Severus the way Harry does – bright eyed and wanting. “I knew this was a foolish idea.”

“Going away, or me?” Harry raises an eyebrow, a look Severus is fairly certain Harry’s been practicing. He resists the urge to snort and rubs his hand over his face.

“Stop. Potter, stop.” Old insecurities battle to the surface and Severus swallows them back because he will not do this. He hates the way that Harry has made him feel. Severus swore a long time ago that he wouldn’t allow himself to be vulnerable to anyone again. He would never be in anybody’s service. Now when his breath leaves him in a ragged hiss, he realises he’s done exactly that with Harry. He may not be a servant but he’s not in control of his heart anymore. He hasn’t been for some time.

Harry stands, pulling on his trousers. He’s so handsome it takes Severus’ breath away and he has to avert his eyes to look elsewhere before the expanse of toned, tanned skin and grass green eyes can tempt him back to bed again.

“You haven’t been taking your potions.” Harry rummages in the small, tattered bag Severus packed for their trip. He retrieves a bottle and presses it into Severus’ hand, running his finger over his arm and watching him closely. “Here. Take it, will you?”

“Fine.” Severus gulps back the potion and the second, sending the bottles back to the case with a flick of his wand. He pockets it and closes his eyes while the liquid soothes his aching bones.

Severus can’t stand the way Harry looks at him and he hesitates, rather than just leaving as he knows he should. There’s nothing to be gained from this, he’s sure of it. One day Potter will decide he’s not able to get what he wants from Severus any longer and then he’ll have to begin the cold, lonely process of trying to mend a broken heart. The thought fills him with dread.

Harry’s voice catches and he buries his head in Severus’ neck. Despite himself, Severus can’t help but wind his arms around Harry and hold him close in quiet desperation. “You know I’m not him.”

“I know.” Severus’ voice is quiet and measured, but he can’t quite force out an apology even with Harry warm and vibrant in his arms.

“I’ve got to go to Russia next week. I won’t be around for a bit and I’m going to miss you. Please don’t leave, I know what you’ll do.”

“And what’s that?”

“Bury yourself in your work and ignore my owls for a bit. I don’t want to fight to get you back into my life again. It doesn’t matter for now, any of it. We can keep it quiet a bit longer if you want. We’ve managed this far, I’m sure another few months won’t make much of a difference. I just want to keep doing this with you. God, I want it so much. Nothing feels as good when you’re not there.” Harry pulls back, his voice rough as his eyes lock with Severus’. “Please?”

Despite himself, Severus can’t resist Harry. He’s never been able to. Instead, he extracts himself and sits on the bed where he finds himself with a lapful of Harry, clutching onto his hair and kissing him fiercely. He slides his hands to Harry’s backside and urges him closer, deepening the kiss while Harry’s fingers work to unbutton his shirt once more.

“You have woefully overestimated my recovery period if you think I’m capable of doing anything more than this at the moment.”

“There’s other stuff we can do.” Harry runs his lips over the line of Severus’ jaw, wriggling a little in his lap. “Like this.” He pushes back into Severus’ hand where Severus is already stroking his fingers lightly along Harry’s buttocks. “Oh fuck. Or like that. Just…just stay.”

Severus kisses Harry with force. Their whispers mingle in the still room and it fills with the sound of their ragged breathlessness and hard, urgent kisses. He keeps Harry close and tastes the familiar sweetness of chocolate and allows himself to drown in a string of eager, desperate kisses.

In truth, Severus isn’t staying because Harry asked.

He’s staying because there’s nowhere else he wants to be, even if he can’t bring himself to say as much out loud.

Spinner’s End, a month later

The sun’s still attempting to rise when Severus busies himself making his morning cup of coffee.

It’s the kind of gloomy, grey day that feels very apt given his current mood. He can hear the low tease of Harry’s voice, soothing his cool skin and making him warm from his head to his toes. He swallows back the growl that threatens to leave him for thinking about Harry in such foolish, romanticised terms.

“I’m not sure what those mugs ever did to offend you, but let me know so I can avoid doing it.”

“You’re offending me now.”

“Am I?”

Severus is used to Harry’s words leaving him with a laugh and even in the still room he finds the memory of it makes his lips tug into a half smile.

“See, now you’re smiling. Come over here and give us a kiss. I’m properly shagged out and I don’t want to go to work this morning. Distract me, will you?”

Severus pauses, the harrumph leaving him despite the fact he’s huffing at an empty room.

There’s no Harry, not this morning. He’s become so used to Harry’s warmth and energy crowding his small, private space that he can’t just blame the weather for the icy chill which rises in the empty room.

There’s a battered denim jacket thrown on a rickety chair at the table and a case for Harry’s glasses next to a huge leather bound book about potions Harry insists on reading one painstaking chapter at a time to understand what the bloody hell you’re on about. The table is set with candles which long since burned away to waxy stubs and there’s still a clean plate and unused cutlery in the place that Severus now thinks of as Harry’s.

He frowns at the clock and takes a sip of his coffee, wishing not for the first time he had the sense to invest in one of those ridiculous cuckoo clocks Harry always seems to enjoy talking about – the one that would confirm Harry’s whereabouts once and for all.

Harry.

Harry who was supposed to come and see Severus yesterday evening. Harry whose portion of spoiled supper is still in the oven in a cracked ceramic dish, after Severus shoved it there and swore he would never again allow himself to lose his heart over sinfully attractive boy heroes half his age. Harry who went out to see his friends with a wave and a kiss on the cheek, smelling like soap and the leather from his new Muggle jacket. Severus closes his eyes and drinks in the memory of Harry, looking better than ever.

Jealousy twists in Severus’ gut as he recalls clutching Harry’s hand just a little too tight and telling him to have a good time in flippant, dispassionate terms as if he couldn’t care less where Harry ended up or who he ended up with.

“Don’t rush, if you’re having fun with your friends. Supper will keep.”

Harry’s easy smile had faltered, furrowed lines appearing in his forehead.

“You could come, you know? I’d like that. We could get pissed together and walk home, singing at the stars.”

When he leaned close it was all Severus could do not to inhale the woody, soapy, delicious scent of him.

“I’m a horrible singer and I’m pretty sure I’d have wandering hands if I was drunk around you.”

“Your hands wander quite enough when you’re sober.”

A fact Severus still can’t quite believe, but he said it in a dry, self-assured tone which made Harry laugh.

“I don’t wish to encroach on your evening or give Skeeter any more ammunition to poke fun at me. I have no desire to have my motives for being with you – not to mention your motives for being with me – scrutinized by the general public.”

“Of course. I’ll see you later, then.”

Harry had pulled his jacket around him – his jaw set and his lips pressed in a grim line – rubbing his hands together as if he was suddenly cold.

But Harry hadn’t seen Severus later. He hadn’t even had the courtesy to let Severus know that his night looked like running into morning.

Severus is the kind of tired he can feel in his bones. He tossed and turned through the night, his dreams full of Harry lithe and perspiring beneath somebody else’s hands. The scar on his neck gives an unsatisfactory twinge and Severus rubs his hand idly against it. He should have known this day would come. He’s always known Harry’s interest in Severus could only last for so long. While Severus may be the more experienced of the two in certain ways, Harry’s always been light years ahead of Severus when it comes to matters of the heart. In that, Severus has no experience at all. He considers himself a woefully inadequate match.

Severus busies himself by thinking of different spells for hexing Harry’s balls off, trying to suppress the way his stomach rolls with fear. He’s spent so long learning how to let Harry into his life, he’s not entirely sure he knows how to go back to the bitter, lonely life without him.

“You’re a fool, Severus.” Severus rasps out his words and takes another sip of his coffee to steady himself, as Archimedes drops the morning paper on the table and pecks idly at his fingers.

The fear turns to nausea and Severus barely notices his mug clattering on the table as his body flames and then chills as if it’s been drenched with ice-water.

Former Death Eaters Attack Knockturn! Potter’s Condition Critical

“Harry.” The name leaves Severus’ lips in broken syllables and his hands shake as he thumbs through the pages, filled with grainy photographs. Of all the scenarios Severus contemplated, this never occurred to him. He curses himself and stares at the middle pages spread with pictures of Harry’s body which looks twisted, broken and more human than ever before.

Harry’s face is obscured by Healers and Aurors dashing around the scarlet pool of blood on the mossy cobbles of Knockturn Alley. His legs jut out awkwardly and even in the photos which are full of movement and energy, Harry is strangely still. His chest doesn’t rise and fall and Severus thinks he’s going to be sick while the silent shouts of those attempting to help Harry build into a crescendo in Severus’ mind.

There’s a pair of broken glasses – the new ones Harry showed off to Severus three months ago. There’s a bottle of wine broken on the cobbles and the rich, plum red mingles with the scarlet of Harry’s blood. Harry doesn’t like red wine. The fact he must have taken a detour to purchase it for his evening with Severus sends another wave of panic through Severus which shakes him to the core.

“Severus, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if I had a bodyguard walking down the street. You know that.”

There’s a sodden paper bag covered with blood and rain and Harry’s wand lies discarded several feet from his outstretched hand. Finally, there’s a close-up of Harry’s face, bruised and pale. His lips don’t move and blood and dirt covers his face, his leather jacket pulled from his body and his shirt in tatters – ripped apart by spell after spell.

Severus has never seen Harry so quiet – so still.

Harry’s shirt wasn’t red when he left.

Harry’s shirt wasn’t red.

Severus stands on unsteady feet and retches into the sink, his shoulders heaving as he stares into the metal basin and tries to compose himself. The headlines and pictures of Harry roll around in his head, a thousand restless thoughts chasing after them and leaving him shaking.

When he’s composed himself sufficiently to be certain he won’t splinch himself, he Apparates in a whirl of black and blue, leaving the mess of papers, broken china and spilled coffee without a backward glance.

*

“Severus?” Kinsgley sounds exhausted, looking up from a mountain of paperwork when Severus barges into his office without so much as knocking on the door.

“Where is he?”

“Who?” Kingsley speaks slowly, his voice hesitant. “We’ve been busy, Severus. You may not have seen the news, but I don’t have time for vendettas at the moment if this can wait until Monday-”

“No, it can’t!” Severus knows he’s shouting, he knows every broken emotion seeps into each syllable but he can’t spend another moment looking for Harry in places he refuses to be found.

“I’ve been looking to find someone like you my whole life.”

Harry said it to Severus once, sleep-hazy and quiet. The words are as fresh in Severus’ mind as if Harry said them only yesterday. He feels like the last twenty-four hours have been a lifetime of searching for Harry. A lifetime of growing panic and increasing frustration. He’s gone to every part of the Muggle and wizarding world that ever held a memory of Harry and found no trace of him there.

“I can’t disclose that information.” Kingsley stares at Severus as if he’s mad and Severus wonders if he just might be.

“I’ve been to St Mungo’s, to Muggle hospitals although Christ knows why anyone would take him there. I’ve been to his home and to that cottage he keeps in the country. I demand to know where Harry Potter is.”

Kingsley’s eyes widen and he rubs his cheek with his fingers, giving Severus an uncertain look. “Harry is in critical condition, Severus. He’s undergoing extensive treatment. I can’t disclose his location to just anybody-”

Just anybody.

Severus tries to fight back the sobs which threaten to burst from him. Thankfully years of hiding his tears enable him to swallow them back until they’re buried somewhere dark with the other tears he wouldn’t allow himself to shed all those years ago. They burn so fiercely behind his eyes he thinks his whole body must be full to the brim of the emotions he thought long since buried.

“I’m not just anybody. I am a distinguished potions expert – the best in the country-”

“He has the best of care at his disposal.”

“I am certain he would want me there when he wakes up.” The if he wakes up hangs in the room between them. Severus withdraws his wand and he pushes into Kingsley’s mind, finding himself met with a blank wall which shutters down as soon as Severus tries to gain access.

“No spells, Severus. No Legilimency.” Kingsley stands and folds his arms, pressing his lips into a tight line. “Harry has plenty of friends. I wasn’t aware the two of you were close in the slightest. To the contrary, I have only heard you speak ill of him.”

“Kingsley…” Severus is usually beyond pleading. He isn’t a man to make himself vulnerable to conjecture and ridicule. Now, after hours of stalking the streets and visiting every possible place he can think of, Severus is exhausted and the ache in his heart intensifies with every step.

“I’m waiting.” Kingsley is implacable and his face shows no sign of comprehension.

Severus musters his courage and wonders why this – of all things – is harder than the many terrible things he’s done.

“It’s important to me that he live. He is important to me. I may be able to help, I will cause no trouble.” Severus sags against the door frame, every last bit of anger seeping from his body and leaving him wasted and broken. “I'm asking you to trust me when I tell you, he would want me to be there. Please, don’t ask me to explain myself. I’m not sure I have the words for it.” Severus swallows and he gives Kingsley a look, trying to keep his face free from the wretched emotions coursing through his body, his heart thrumming out a desperate Harry, Harry, Harry. “For the things that were required of me, during the war. For that, if nothing else.”

Kingsley swallows and his next words are unusually soft and thick with emotion. “Oh, Severus.”

Please.”

“The Burrow. I’ll let Molly and Arthur know I sent you.” Kingsley lifts his wand and makes to conjure a Patronus. He looks at Severus, his expression grim. “I can tell them it’s for medical reasons. Whatever else you choose to tell them is up to you.”

Relief washes over Severus and his thanks leaves him in a whisper.

Hot on the heels of Kingsley’s Patronus, he makes his way to The Burrow.

To Harry.

The Burrow

Severus arrives to a flurry of activity, as Arthur shakes his hand and ushers him into the small living room full of the people Harry loves. Though there’s hardly any space left for Severus Arthur and Molly make space for him to stand awkwardly away from his former students. He wonders if he should take their welcome of a sign that he might one day be able to fit in Harry’s already full life.

“I’ll put on the kettle, love. We appreciate you coming.” Molly squeezes Severus’ hand and he swallows, squeezing it back. He’s reminded of his mum and the comfort he could always take in a warming cup of Yorkshire tea. He nods, not sure he trusts himself to speak. “May I see him?”

Molly looks towards a door which remains tightly shut, an orange ball of light moving along the wood and blinking at Severus. She points towards the door and Severus can almost hear Harry breathing through the wood. “You’re familiar with the Spiritus charm?”

“Of course.” Severus stares at the orange ball which is dimmer than he would expect. Harry’s light should be bright enough to burn the whole room from the inside out. “Has it turned white at any stage?”

Molly shakes her head and rubs her eyes, her face drawn. “No. Not yet. It’s been…very faint.”

“I see.” The same feeling of fear and nausea which has dogged him since the morning causes Severus’ stomach to roll. “But we can see him, nevertheless?”

“Unless it’s red. We must give the Healers space if it turns red at any point. It has been red on and off for most of the night. You arrived at exactly the right time.”

“Red?” Another roll of fear assaults Severus and he draws a shaky breath. “He has been…close to death.”

“He’s not out of the woods yet, Severus.” Molly brushes tears from her eyes. “What would I do without him? He’s like a son. I won’t lose another son to this unholy war.”

“You won’t.” Severus knows he can’t lean on Molly at a time like this because he’s supposed to be all business. He’s supposed to be the angry, bitter former Professor who takes pleasure out of being a bastard and terrorising Harry. “I will not allow it.”

“You’re a good man, Severus.” Molly’s expression softens and she collects herself, her voice brisk. “Let me put on that tea. Arthur?”

“Can you tell me exactly what happened?” Severus walks to the door with Arthur, his voice hushed. He ignores the curious look he gets from Draco and the raised eyebrows from Weasley, as he and Granger mutter to themselves. There’s no sign of Charlie, but George and Ginny sit close together, their heads bowed. Lovegood gives Severus a wave, her eyes dark shadows and he tries not to scowl in response. He can’t focus on anything but Harry, and he keeps his back to the room of people whispering about his sudden appearance and focuses on Arthur.

“There have been rebel uprisings in America. There’s a dangerous faction of wizards who support the work of You-Know-Who, although thankfully there’s no one individual that comes close to wielding the kind of power he was able to command.”

“I don’t understand what they want with Potter.” Severus keeps his lips pressed in a grim line, unable to tear his eyes from the amber light which flickers and dims. He can almost feel Harry’s energy ebbing away. He closes his eyes momentarily and urges Harry to fight. Fight. Just one more time, love. Fight.

“He’s a high profile target. He’s had death threats since the war, as has Kingsley and others who went into important Ministry positions. They have been more targeted of late, increasing in severity.”

“Is that so?” Severus’ voice is tight and brittle. He thinks of Harry tugging on his denim jacket and scruffy trainers, going into work with a tired smile which doesn’t meet his eyes. He remembers the naked fear in Harry’s eyes when he wakes from nightmares. Not once does he remember Harry ever saying someone wanted him dead.

“Do we have to fight, again?”

They make sense now, those kisses before Harry leaves to travel abroad and fight one evil or another. Those long, deep things which shake Severus to his bones. The quiet whispers when it’s just night and moonlight and the room is still and full of shadows. The questions about going away for a bit, somewhere sunny where nobody has to die. Severus swallows and he rubs his hand over his neck which stabs with a sharp pain. Harry never said a word about any of this. He was endlessly cheerful apart from those moments when Severus would catch him scratching idly at his arm and notice the strange, far-off look in his eyes.

“Do you need me to be rough with you, cub?”

Severus can’t handle the memories that assault him of Harry spread out and breaking. He can taste Harry on his tongue, salty with perspiration and naked with want. He can imagine burying his head in the crook of Harry’s neck and breathing him in. Harry Potter isn’t supposed to die. Not now. Not after everything. Not when he’s more alive than anybody Severus has ever known.

“He never said a word,” Severus says, forgetting Arthur’s presence.

“Well.” Arthur’s eyebrows lift. “I imagine he wouldn’t confide in everybody about Ministry business. It’s all rather hush-hush.”

Everybody. Just anybody.

Severus resists the urge to tell Arthur exactly what he is to Harry and to demand to know why he, of all people, wouldn’t have been told of the threat posed.

“How did they find him?”

“We’re not sure. Charlie mentioned a couple of people acting strangely in the Leaky. Harry left before the others, he had somewhere to be. We think they followed him. For some reason he didn’t go straight home.”

“No.” Severus knows exactly why Harry didn’t go home and the thought sends another wave of anger, guilt and frustration through his body. “I didn’t see Charlie with the others.”

“No, he had to go for a walk.” Arthur lowers his voice, confiding in Severus. “They became very close after the war. We had hoped that maybe one day our boys would end up together. Charlie needed to clear his head, we’ve been up for hours.”

“Of course.” Severus doesn’t have space in his heart for anything other than Harry’s well-being but he imagines the continual pushing of Harry and Charlie together. He wonders how that felt for Harry and how it felt for Charlie if Severus is right that his intentions towards Harry are something more than platonic. He curses under his breath, not for the first time wondering why his damned pride and privacy was allowed to impact on every aspect of Harry’s last year. “Do the Ministry expect to find the people responsible?”

“They’re working on it. This is likely the first of many. Kingsley’s got round the clock protection these days.”

“Have the Healers said much about the extent of Potter’s injuries?”

“A little.” Arthur rubs the scruffy stubble on his chin, a sign of hours without sleep. “Multiple broken bones in his legs. One of his arms is broken too and one leg is worse than the other. Assuming all else heals he’s likely to need significant time to recover to get to a point where he can walk for any distance completely unassisted.”

“And Quidditch?” Severus swallows and Arthur lets out a low, fond chuckle.

“Oh, Harry will find a way to fly. There’s no doubt about that. The Healers seem to think, with time…”

“Broken bones can be mended. What else is there?” Severus snaps at Arthur, gathering himself after a moment with a muttered apology.

“There are some internal injuries from the spells, thankfully no brain damage. The thing which caused the Healers most concern was a particularly nasty curse which meant many of Harry’s injuries have been resistant to the usual spells and magical remedies. They have found a potion to dull the impact of the curse, I imagine that’s what Kingsley sent you here to assist with. You should discuss it with them and see if there are any alternative options for pain relief for when he wakes up.”

“If he wakes up.” Severus doesn’t speak in more than a whisper and Arthur claps him on the shoulder, shaking his head.

When. There will be no talk of if, not around the children.”

Severus wants to make the point that those children have all fought in a bloody war and have seen more death than most at their age. He wants to point out that Harry is no more a child than Severus is – that he’s more of an adult in many ways. He doesn’t say any of those things. He supposes to Arthur his children will always be children to him, even when they have long since grown. With a nod of thanks, he opens the door to the room, shutting it behind him and sagging against it.

He makes his way to the bed, sitting in the small chair next to Harry. He looks so broken and smaller than usual. His arms are covered in bruising and one is wrapped in thick bandages. Under the covers the bandages wrapped around his legs give them extra height.

Without even realizing he’s doing it, Severus lets the tears fall until all he can taste is bile and warm salt water on his lips.

“I’m furious with you, Potter.” He clutches Harry’s hand, trying not to squeeze too hard and he brings his lips to it just to brush them against Harry’s skin. He’s cold as stone and his fingers don’t even twitch under the light touch. His face is covered in deep scratches and bruises and his hair fans the pillow, contrasting sharply with his pale face. Severus brushes shaking fingers through the thick strands covering Harry’s forehead. “If you don’t wake up, I’ll…”

His voice trembles away to nothing and he whispers the words he’s been terrified of Harry hearing into the quiet room.

Yesterday he would have given anything to ensure Harry didn’t guess his secret.

Today he wants nothing more than the chance to tell him, over and over again until his heart bursts with it and Harry hears.

*

When the Healer tells him it’s time to leave Harry to rest, Severus snarls and fights until she gives him another ten minutes and glares at him as if he’s a recalcitrant child.

Severus takes Harry’s wand from the bedside table and lets the magic hum through his fingertips. It’s faint, but it’s distinctly Harry. Severus presses a soft kiss to Harry’s forehead and pockets the wand as the blood stains on the wood send another wave of nausea through his body.

When the Healer comes back into the room ten minutes later, Severus leaves without any argument.

*

It’s ten past midnight and the small house is still a hive of activity, with Harry’s friends and family crowding together for comfort in the small living room.

With the exception of Molly and Arthur, nobody pays much attention to Severus. Draco acknowledges his presence and asks a couple of curious questions before Severus gives him short shrift. Of all the people here, Draco knows Severus the best. Severus doesn’t want to risk betraying himself with careless words. The way Granger looks at him doesn’t go unnoticed. She studies Severus as if he’s a difficult problem that needs working out while Weasley gives him flushed, angry glares and Longbottom sends nervous glances in his direction.

Severus spends hours as a silent observer in a part of Harry’s life he’s never really seen. There’s no sign of Charlie Weasley yet, but everybody else gathered around represents those who are the closest to Harry and still living. He drinks in every hushed conversation, every attempt at a joke and bathes in the outpouring of love in the room.

The person Weasley, Granger and the others talk about is so recognisable as Severus’ Harry and yet in other ways, Severus doesn’t know him at all. He’s never seen Harry in the flesh drinking pints with his friends and laughing about something that happened at the Ministry. In that regard he only sees the man showcased by the press when they write their endless articles about Harry’s nights out or Harry’s latest shopping trip. He has no idea how Draco and Harry formed a friendship and what they might have to talk about when they’re browsing for clothes and drinking large milky coffees at the new coffee bar in Diagon Alley.

“The press never leave him alone, I’m surprised they’re not round here now gawking through the windows and trying to get their next story.” Weasley is the angriest of all, his cheeks red against his pale face and his eyes dark with shadows. “Why couldn’t they bloody well leave him in peace? If Charlie didn’t keep them at bay Harry wouldn’t have had any freedom at all.”

Severus swallows, thickly. Charlie. By rights it should have been Severus telling Skeeter to bugger off and keeping Harry close to his side. The realisation hits him that even though he’s observed the odd Ministry event and reads all the papers he doesn’t really know how Harry requires protecting from the press. He doesn’t have a clue how Harry’s body might stiffen and he might look for a firm, reassuring hand when he’s caught in a pack of photographers. He doesn’t know because he’s taken the utmost care not to be at Harry’s side when the cameras are around.

Severus sees another part to Harry he’s never considered and the ache of envy and loss is acute. Harry’s life was rich and full even without Severus. There are some former students Severus barely remembers and he knows nothing of their lives at all and how they might fit into Harry’s. Harry’s never been a boy to hide in the shadows, whatever he might have said to Severus about liking the quiet. Harry’s always been force and recklessness, loud and protective of the things he loves. To keep Severus’ secret – to keep his own secret – must have been unbearable for someone like Harry.

The light goes red when the last remnants of night seep into morning.

“Professor…” Granger’s voice is a whisper as for some reason she looks to Severus first. “Mr Weasley, Mrs Weasley…the light.”

There’s a flurry of activity as the red glow bathes the room and Severus wonders if he’s going to crumple to the floor. The Healers push him back as he tries to gain entrance to Harry’s room until strong arms hold him back and keep him steady.

“It’s not going to help. I know, Professor. I know. Just let them do their job.” The voice dips and the I know comes again until Severus nearly sobs with relief.

Charlie Weasley.

Of course he knows. Of all the people Harry would have told, it would have been Charlie. If they were constantly pushed together perhaps Harry thought he owed Weasley the truth in case the rumours sparked any false hope. With a shaky breath, Severus gives Charlie a quick nod and avoids his eyes in favour of staring at the red light outside Harry’s door.

Red for Gryffindor.

Red for Cruciatus.

Red for blood.

Severus clutches onto Harry’s wand and prays to a god he doesn’t believe in.

*

When Severus makes his way downstairs for breakfast, Granger, Weasley, Molly and Arthur are gathered around the small table in the living room outside Harry’s room. Charlie Weasley is nowhere to be seen and the other friends and family members are either still sleeping or returned to their homes when the light turned from red back to a pale, sickly amber. They look up when Severus approaches and his stomach churns as he takes in Granger’s flushed cheeks, streaked with tears.

“Harry woke up.” Granger’s tears slide down her cheeks and she wipes them away with the back of her hand. “Just for a moment, but he was there. He sounded so scared.”

The wave of emotion which crashes over him when he hears Harry was awake takes his breath away and Severus has to clutch onto the nearest piece of furniture to steady himself. The ecstasy is closely followed by the thought of Harry waking frightened and uncertain and without Severus to comfort him or offer him reassurance. He scowls at the light on the door which blinks its dull amber and begins to pace.

“The Healers must be finished with him by now, surely? I should have been there.”

You? You’re the last person that should have been there.” Weasley can barely contain his laughter, although there’s no humour in it. He looks hurt and furious, shaking his head as he looks at Granger. “What did he say?”

Hermione lifts her eyes until they meet Severus’ and the look on her face sends a chill through his body. When she speaks, her voice is calm and soft and Severus is surprised to find she sounds soothing and awestruck – instead of recriminatory.

“He…he asked for Severus. He said you weren’t to find out from the papers. Oh, God.” Hermione’s voice breaks and she looks uncertain because they all know that’s precisely how Severus found out about the attack. Because of his own foolish pride the very last person anybody would have chosen to contact about Harry Potter’s well-being would be Severus Snape.

“It was hardly his fault that’s how the news came to me.” Severus can hear the crack in his voice but he no longer wants to hide it. He wants to take Harry in his arms and let him know that he’s right here – just where Harry wants him to be – that thought sending relief flooding through him.

Granger continues watching Severus and he can hear her mind whirring. “He said you’d be worried. He closed his eyes and just said…he needed you…more than I’d understand.” She lets out a slightly choked laugh. “Then he asked if I’d get him a chocolate frog and when I got back, he wasn’t speaking anymore and the light on the door was still yellow.”

“Why are you here, though, really?” Weasley looks cross, his arms folded across his chest as he glares at Severus. “Why on earth does he want to see you of all people? You’re being rude to everyone and Harry doesn’t even like you.”

“Ron.” Granger is unusually quiet, nudging Weasley in the side and giving Severus the same look – as if someone has suddenly cast Lumos and everything is clear. “I’m not sure that’s quite right.”

“Of course he doesn’t bloody like him! You remember what Snape was like to Harry at school. Don’t tell me that’s miraculously changed.”

“Time is a great healer.” Severus keeps his voice low, his eyes down. He slides Harry’s wand through his fingers to feel the familiar thrum of Harry through his veins. The magic is weaker, as if the wand knows Harry isn’t able to cast spells but just as Harry has always responded to Severus with open, bright, eagerness, his wand sends sparks through Severus’ skin and heals the ache in his heart. He takes a breath, drawing on Harry’s energy and remembering their lazy morning kisses and the way Harry would look at him sometimes – an irrepressible force – full of courage of conviction.

“It’s just my friends, Severus. They can keep it to themselves. I’d like to tell them, if you’d let me.”

“What are you so afraid of, anyway? Who cares if people find out, as long as we’re happy?”

The ache returns, Harry’s sparks of magic fading and Severus pushes the wand inside his robes to keep it close to his heart. For someone as demonstrative and personable as Harry he can see now, why it was so hard for Harry to keep their secret. When he first saw the crowd of Weasleys and friends in the small, tight space of the Burrow, Severus knew instinctively what Harry had done for him. Now he just wants Harry to wake up so he can tell him that. Privately. Publicly. Severus no longer cares, as long as Harry just lives.

“What the buggering hell is time is a great healer supposed to mean?” Weasley looks around the diminished crowd, seeking guidance from Arthur who shrugs helplessly and Molly who looks at the faces of those gathered in the room with a strange look of understanding flickering over her face. Nobody left in the room has slept properly since the attack. If they have, it’s been a fitful hour upright on a sofa or with their head next to Harry on the bed in his room – a fleeting moment in one of the beds before keeping midnight vigils at Harry’s bedside. Their eyes reflect the pain and concern Severus is sure they see in his own, framed with dark shadows.

“It means I think Harry and the Professor are friends.” Granger’s voice is quiet, her eyes locked with Severus’. “I think they’re more than that. Am I right?”

“As always, Miss Granger.” Severus gives Weasley a look and mutters under his breath. “Do stop gawping, Weasley.”

“How long has this been going on for?” Molly’s voice sounds a little shrill.

“A year, give or take.” Severus wants to let the words spill from him but even now, he can’t simply speak of love in this too-small space full of people that aren’t Harry. He still believes that Harry deserves to hear that first and for the hundredth, selfish time Severus wills him to wake up. “I’m prepared to take Veritaserum if required. I have some in my stores.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Severus.” Arthur frowns at Severus and he exchanges a glance with Molly. It’s the kind of glance that make Severus bristle. The kind that say he isn’t good enough for Harry. “I’m sure, after everything, we can trust your word.”

“He wouldn’t have kept this from us for a year.” Weasley looks a little green but Severus is so sick and tired of being without Harry, he can’t even take any pleasure in it. “Harry doesn’t lie to us. Not to his friends.”

“Apparently he does if given an ultimatum.” Severus hears the words spill from his lips, the guilt weighing heavily on him as the combined force of the Weasley family wait for his explanation.

Weasley presses on as if Severus hasn’t spoken. “He wouldn’t have been bothered about coming out with someone or any of that. I mean, he’s Harry. People love him. He saved the bloody world. He’s not a coward.”

“But apparently I am, Mr Weasley.” Severus wants to snap and bluster but his voice is tired and he’s so, so exhausted. So tired of fighting and sniping with people and trying to explain something he can’t explain to himself. He’s not entirely how he’s supposed to make people understand why Harry want him – of all people – when he can hardly believe it himself. “It was my privacy he was protecting. My secret.”

Harry was your secret?” Weasley looks as if he’s about to fall over, a wild laugh leaving him as he casts a look at the other Weasleys who look increasingly more uncertain. “You’d be bloody lucky to have him. Anyone would. You just wanted him all to yourself because…because…” He trails off and mutters something which sounds like because you’re a greasy git under his breath, but there’s no malice in it – not really. Weasley’s eyes are shadowed with the same dark circles as the others, his face pale and drawn.

Severus sneers at Weasley. He knows how jealously he’s guarded his private moments with Harry and the exchange reminds him why. “Perhaps I was concerned about people looking at me as you have just done, Mr Weasley. Such an air of disbelief.”

“Well it’s bloody stupid. He wouldn’t be interested in you.”

“Ron, you don’t know that.” Granger’s voice is low and pleading, her eyes still on Severus.

“He’s not awake to speak for himself, is he? This is just some kind of trick. He’s trying to make a fool out of us.” Weasley jabs his finger at Severus, disbelief and horror written all over his face.

“Did you ever think it was this kind of scorn and ridicule I was protecting myself from? I was protecting him from?”

Severus’ stomach rolls. He can hear this whispers of Amortentia and Imperius from the press. He knows the kind of descriptions the Prophet will use to vilify him and he’s long expected it would only be a matter of time for Harry to see what others always see in Severus. Someone reclusive. Bitter. Unlovable.

“Can we be sure it’s true, Arthur?” Even now Molly’s tone becomes doubtful. “Harry has suffered a great deal and all of those potions…”

A furious anger wells in the pit of Severus’ stomach. He turns to Arthur, his voice raising to a hysterical pitch. “And you? What do you have to say to me, Arthur? I imagine you must find the whole notion quite disgusting.”

He notices the way Arthur finds Molly’s hand and squeezes, just once. He swallows and scratches at his neck which has begun to throb due to the potions he’s neglected to take.

Arthur contemplates Severus. “I’m unlikely to ever find something Harry wants or needs disgusting, Severus.” He sighs and wraps his arm around Molly, giving her a kiss on the head. “I think people are just trying to understand.”

“He’s told you, then?” Another voice from the door and Severus looks up to see Charlie Weasley propped against the doorframe, watching them all.

“You knew about this?” The colour drains from Weasley’s face.

“Yeah. Might have had an inkling.” Charlie pushes himself off the door and he mutters something to Ron which Severus can’t hear. Whatever he says shuts Weasley up and he gives a brief nod, staring at Severus with his eyebrows knitted in a frown.

“Is this a serious relationship?” Molly looks to Charlie instead of Severus and it sends another wave of fury through Severus until he’s shaking with it.

“I’d ask the Professor that, not me.” Charlie nods at Severus and gives him an apologetic look. “But for Harry…yeah, it’s serious. It’s Harry, innit? I don’t reckon he’s going to keep a secret like this if he’s not a bit barmy about someone.”

“He’s not barmy.” Severus hisses out the words and glares at Charlie who gives him a lopsided grin.

“Completely barmy if you ask me,” Weasley junior pipes up. Thankfully Granger elbows him in the side so Severus doesn’t have to hex him.

“I think we should let Harry tell us himself.” Arthur’s lips twitch. “If Harry’s asking to see Severus, the least we can do is respect his wishes.”

“Of course.” Molly looks as if she wants to say more, but in the end she just leans into Arthur and closes her eyes. “Of course we should.”

Severus notices the little light on the door first, his response catching in his throat. The soft amber begins to flare and brighten until white light bathes the room. Severus wonders how he manages to keep the tears from sliding down his cheeks when he hears sniffles from the others and a loud whoop from Charlie. The thrum of his heartbeat mingles with the magic from Harry’s wand which surges against his skin – Harry’s magic touching his heart. He knows in his more lucid moments he’ll look back on this critically as the pure fantasy of a man who’s had too little sleep, but in this moment Severus is prepared to believe that every rush of breath which ghosts over his cheeks and every vibrant spark of warmth is emanating from Harry – from Harry being awake and alive.

A Ministry Healer bustles out of the room, efficient and all business.

“He’s awake, if you’d like to go in. Don’t exhaust him, please. He’s got a long road to recovery.”

Nobody is looking at Severus any longer. Harry’s family – his real family – make their way to the door with quiet shushes as if soft tones will be less grating than loud, obnoxious laughter and false cheer.

Severus lingers behind, leaning against the door as it closes behind him. He can see just enough of Harry sitting up in bed to send his heart beating frantically. His hands turn hot and clammy, his skin crawling and his body dots with cool perspiration as he tries desperately to catch a breath. He hauls his robes around himself, a defence mechanism of sorts. He’s stared into green eyes as the life went out once before. He can’t do it again. He won’t. He’s grateful for a moment to compose himself as the others collect round Harry and block Severus from view.

“Oh, Harry.” Molly’s the first to go to the bedside with a broken sob and the others follow suit, crowding around.

“We thought you were-”

“Look a bit worse for wear there, mate.”

“Look at you, worrying us all.”

They’re all able to it. Each one of them can speak with fond affection in low, tearful tones. Every one can say how much they worry. How much they care. Severus is reminded yet again of how much he differs from Harry and his extended family as he continues to keep a careful distance even when his skin itches with his need to touch Harry and he wants to blast everybody else to one side just so he can see Harry smile up at him again.

Harry blinks. His lips tug into a smile that’s so achingly familiar, it makes every part of Severus hurt. His expression is only briefly marred by a wince of pain and then he’s back again, the brightest light in the room – the white light on the door never having seemed more apt for anyone than it does for Harry in that moment.

“Feel like I fell off my broom again. Hope you kept Lockheart away.” Harry’s voice is raspy and thick from potions he’s clearly been taking. Severus can’t help the quirk of a smile Harry’s words bring to his lips and he makes a mental note to interrogate every single Healer tending to Harry’s needs. With Cruciatus if required.

“As if we’d do that to you. You’d be a rubbish Auror partner if you didn’t have any bones.” Weasley’s voice cracks.

Granger gives Harry a gentle hug which makes his breath oof from him. “Steady on, Hermione. Not sure I’m ready for too many hugs yet.”

There’s a steady flow of chatter about everything from Quidditch to whether or not Harry’s bandages could be colour charmed to brighten the room up a bit. Severus lets the conversation swim around him and focuses on the occasional, rough notes of Harry’s voice. He drinks them in, stroking his hand for one brief moment over the wand in his breast pocket and breathing in the air which is – finally – rich with the sound of Harry’s voice.

Eventually, Arthur waves the others back and Severus is brought firmly back to the present. “Give the boy some room.” Arthur can’t hide his happiness as he lets out a sound which is half sob, half laugh. He pauses and then he gives Harry and uncertain smile. “There’s somebody else to see you. Somebody who has been very – ah – determined about remaining by your side while you’ve been…sleeping.”

“In a coma,” Severus mutters. Arthur’s making Harry’s injuries sound like something from a terrible Muggle fairy tale, and Severus has no desire to be cast as Prince Charming.

“Yeah?” Harry’s voice is like warm honey through Severus’ veins. He sounds so hopeful, so breathless and eager it sends a jolt of fire through Severus’ body. “He’s…here?”

Arthur gives Severus a look as if to say now’s your chance. Despite a disgruntled huff from Weasley, the people around Harry shift away as if to maintain a little distance and Granger vacates the chair beside Harry’s bed. Of all of the people nearby in the room, she and Charlie are the only one who give Severus an encouraging smile. He makes a note to tell her how much he enjoyed her latest paper, if they ever find themselves making small talk.

Severus pushes himself off the door and mutters a curse when he realises how weak at the knees he is. He makes a far less graceful path to Harry’s bedside than he’d intended, ignoring the eyes focusing on his every move. He sits stiffly in the seat next to Harry’s bed, his back ramrod straight. He inches his hand onto the bed and then pulls it back again, to fold it in his lap with his other hand. He wonders what people think of him, this foolish man so crippled with insecurities that he can’t even reach out to Harry. Even now. His mouth is dry and he’s suddenly incapable of saying anything that isn’t for Harry’s ears only.

“Hi.” Harry’s voice is low and rough, his eyes shining and he’s looking at Severus as if he’s the only person in the room. He stretches his hand to the spot where Severus’ hand had been moments before, his voice cracking and the tremble in his fingers giving him away. “Why are you so far away, then?”

It’s all Severus needs. It’s Harry, bright-eyed and alive. It’s his Harry and he’s not planning to let him down again, now that he has been afforded another opportunity to make everything right. Second chances don’t come to men like Severus very often and he knows that when he gets a chance like this, he has to grasp it with both hands. He shifts onto the bed which is slightly awkward as he doesn’t want to jostle Harry when he’s still covered in bandages and bruises, hiding his pain behind a smile which falters at the edges.

“Little twit.” His voice is rough, ragged and he can hardly breathe properly when Harry lets out a choked sound. Severus brushes his fingers through Harry’s hair and – Weasley’s be damned – presses a kiss to Harry’s forehead. Harry’s skin is hot beneath to the touch and his lips part under the weight of the sigh that follows.

“Yeah. Knew you’d be cross. Couldn’t get to my wand quick enough, messed it all up.” Harry blinks up at Severus when Severus pulls back and the soft snick of the door announcing the Healer’s arrival in the room has Severus positioning Harry under the crook of his arm before he can be asked to leave. “Should have remembered Expelliarmus. Don’t need a wand for that these days.”

Severus swallows and he keeps his free hand running through Harry’s hair as he leans into Severus and arranges himself as if Severus’ bony chest and musty robes make the most comfortable pillow he could ask for. Severus is aware he’s now stretching out on the bed next to Harry to help him settle, proprietary and gawking Weasleys be damned. He keeps his back straight against the cool wall and soft pillows which smell of medicinal potions and Harry. Every inch of his skin warms and relief floods through his body until he’s rather glad he’s lying down, the dizziness in his head making the room spin.

“I’m hardly cross. Foolish boy.” He ignores the eyes boring into them both and keeps his hand stroking through Harry’s hair, keeping up a gentle pressure of his fingers on Harry’s scalp that he knows always soothes Harry when he’s unwell or waking from another bad dream.

“Are you taking your potions? Your throat…Molly, make sure he’s taking them.” Harry’s eyes close and he burrows closer to Severus. “Bet you’re not taking them. Don’t want you getting sick.”

Severus didn’t know it was possible for the lump in his throat to get any bigger and when he looks up at Molly, she’s busily wiping silent tears from her cheeks. She gives Severus a smile which is fond, if still a little uncertain, and she squeezes Harry’s hand lightly.

“Of course I will, love. We’ll make sure he’s looking after himself.”

Hermione clears her throat, her voice barely a whisper from behind Severus. “We all will, Harry. Professor Snape’s part of the family now, isn’t he?”

Harry’s response is to let out another sigh, the contentment clear to Severus’ ears. His voice is so quiet, it’s almost inaudible but his words still travel through the still room as everyone strains to hear Harry’s words.

“Do you know how cold it is in the dark without you?” Harry nuzzles into Severus in a way Severus always thought would just be for them. He knows this voice of Harry’s - the languid, sleep-heavy sentences he forms when they’re tangled together just before sleep. It’s when Harry’s at his most vulnerable and at his quietest and Severus has gathered together every single one of those moments in little phials of silver for the weeks when Harry travels to far-flung climes with the Ministry.

“It was just another bad dream,” Severus murmurs. “You’re warm now.”

“Yeah.” Harry lets out a sigh and the whole room is as still as it could be, as if people aren’t breathing just so they can hear Harry’s words. Severus knows how they feel. He thinks he might have stopped breathing himself. “That’s the problem with too much sleep. All the nightmares. Well, you know. You have them too.”

“Yes.” Severus knows all about nightmares and how lately they’re full of empty spaces that Harry no longer fills. Severus can’t stop brushing his lips against Harry’s daft, ridiculous mop of hair. He wants to bury himself in Harry’s scent and never come up for air. “Are you in pain?”

“It hurts less now you’re here.” Harry’s voice is sluggish with sleep. “Feel like I’ve been looking for you for such a long time. I went back to Hogwarts. No offense, Severus, but those rooms of yours are creepy. I went to the balcony, do you remember? Just like I did three years ago, when I wanted you to kiss me again. I threw some stones in the Great Lake but then it got dark and there weren’t any fireworks. Didn’t know I’d find you here.”

“I’m right here, Harry.” Severus can barely speak his voice is so rough with emotion, his throat constricting. He sees the way Arthur’s eyebrows shoot up at Harry’s words and he presses his lips together, turning his full attention back to Harry. There will be plenty of time to suffer the indignity of being forced to answer Arthur’s fatherly concerns like a teenager. He can’t even bring himself to care with Harry alive and sleepy in his arms.

Harry settles back against him and closes his eyes. His voice dips and he clutches at Severus’ robes. “Stay, will you?”

Severus itches to reach for his wand when he hears a protest from the Healer.

“I’m afraid that won’t be-”

Surprisingly, it’s Weasley that pipes up again, bestowing the Healer with a glare. “Used to be a Death Eater, he did. Severus Snape. He was a spy for Dumbledore. A double agent. You probably read all about it in the Prophet after the war. I reckon he must be pretty powerful to do something like that, don’t you? Plus, Harry wants him to stay and he might not look like he’s up for a scrap at the moment, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s don’t underestimate Harry Potter. He can do spells in his sleep these days.”

Severus resists the urge to laugh, firstly because he knows for a fact that’s not entirely true and secondly because he’s too busy being stunned into silence by Weasley’s unexpected defence.

Granger stifles a laugh and she gives Weasley a kiss on the cheek which makes him flush to the tips of his ears. “I think Ron’s right. Surely we can bend the rules this once?”

“Hemione! I always knew you loved rule breaking.” Weasley sounds as if he couldn’t be more proud, the two smiling at one another as if sharing a private joke. If this particular piece of rule breaking didn’t work so perfectly to Severus’ advantage, he would almost be tempted to take house points just for old time’s sake.

“I believe if it helps Harry rest, it’s in everyone’s best interests to allow Severus to stay.” Arthur looks at Severus, who meets his eyes at last. “I’d like to talk with you when you have time, I think we all would, but for now…”

“Now, I’m staying.” For the first time since the Prophet landed on his table, Severus is exactly where he wants to be and he has no intention of leaving Harry’s side for a very long time.

“Fine.” The Healer throws up her hands and then gives Severus a look. “But you’re to let him rest.”

“I was hardly planning a Potions lesson.” Severus resists the urge to add something insulting to that sentence, because he’s not sure he wants to irritate the people entrusted with looking after Harry.

“I’m going to have to ask the rest of you to leave. Please just let him sleep for as long as he needs.”

“Of course.” Molly’s voice catches again and she kisses Harry softly before shooing everyone out.

The Healer fusses over Harry’s bandages and answers Severus’ questions about Harry’s potions with professional courtesy, only noticeably biting her tongue on a couple of occasions.

Finally, the room is still.

Harry’s hand curls in Severus’ robes and he mumbles something, which Severus doesn’t catch.

Unconcerned about the crick in his back and the dull throbbing in his neck, Severus wraps his arms around Harry to keep him close and murmurs to him as Harry’s fingers grip tighter onto Severus.

“Hush, love. I’ve got you.” Severus takes a deep, ragged breath and his words are as much for himself as they are for Harry. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

*

“I went to get those potions of yours. I hope I got the right ones. Thought you might like a cup of tea, too.” The door opens and Charlie closes it behind him with a light kick. He places the potions and tea on the table next to Harry’s wand, and Severus takes the potion with a grateful sigh.

“Thank you.” He lets the liquid work a soothing path down his throat, already feeling a little stronger with Harry warm in his arms and the potion numbing the dull pain in his throat. “I suppose I should ask when he told you.”

“He didn’t. I guessed.” Charlie shrugs, sitting on the seat by the bed and squeezing Harry’s hand lightly. “Hiya, Harry. Hope you don’t mind me telling your Professor you’ve always been a bit obvious about having a thing for him. I’ll buy you a beer when you wake up if you’re cross.”

“You guessed?”

“Yeah. Then I made him tell me.” Charlie gives Severus a quick look. “I thought it was one sided at first.”

“No.” Severus feels like he’s acknowledging the years he’s spent trying not to think about Harry as anything other than a nuisance for the first time. “It was never one sided.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a bit obvious now.” Charlie chuckles, sitting back in his chair and reaching for his tea. “I liked him, you know. I thought I’d be able to get him helping out with the dragons one day and sweep him off his feet.” Charlie’s eyes shine with mirth. “Dragons are tough to resist.”

“I can only imagine.” Severus raises his eyebrow at Charlie. “Your interest too, was apparent. To me, at least.”

“I bet.” Charlie gives Harry a fond look. “Not to him, though. I got the message soon enough. I’ve known since then there was someone else and then I saw him talking to you outside just after that first Ministry bash. He came back in the strangest mood. I’ve known since then there was something going on. I just hadn’t managed to put the pieces together.”

“When did that happen?” Despite his usual jealousy, Severus can’t detect anything from Charlie anymore that isn’t simply warm, genuine affection. Love, of a different sort to the kind Severus and Harry have. Not something to threaten Severus or to make him rage and throw hexes.

Harry shifts and mumbles something, his expression cloudy. Severus begins to stroke his hand through Harry’s hair again and murmurs I’m here in Harry’s ear. The dark expression passes and Harry looks peaceful again, rubbing his cheek against Severus. When Severus looks back at Charlie, he’s watching them both with a peculiar expression.

“I thought he was daft when he told me. The way he talked about you. It was as if…” Charlie shrugs, his sentence trailing off into nothing.

“As if I have a heart?” Severus turns his eyes heavenward and shakes his head. “Imagine that.”

“I think I see it a bit better now. What he sees.” Charlie grins and finishes his tea. “He was happy, you know. He is happy.”

Severus gives a non-committal grunt. “I can imagine how happy he was being forced to keep my secrets.” He pauses and appraises Charlie. “I often thought Harry would be better with somebody more like you. I’m afraid I am far too selfish these days to afford him the opportunity to discover that for himself.” Severus must be tired to speak so freely, the potion making him thick-headed and woozy.

“Don’t be soft.” Charlie snorts. “Don’t make decisions for him. He told me once you’re his soulmate, do you know that? I got him pissed and took him out. Half the blokes in the club were looking at him and at least half of those asked for his number or to buy him a drink. Muggles,” he clarifies.

“Indeed.” Severus presses his lips together and glares at Charlie. “Thank you so much for getting him drunk in a Muggle gay bar.”

Charlie laughs. “It was just a bit of fun. We were looking for someone for me, anyway – not for him. He’s not exactly on the market, is he? He spent the whole night talking about you. How you fit together just right. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, he said. He told me it looks like it shouldn’t make any kind of picture at first when the pieces are all scattered about the place but with a bit of work you work out how to get them to fit together just right and make an amazing picture.” Charlie pulls a face. “He thinks you’re a bloody Monet.”

A warm wave of emotion washes over Severus and he lets out a low hum of appreciation. He gathers Harry close to him and closes his eyes. “Sentimental little twit.”

“Isn’t he just?” Charlie stands, his voice already sounding very far away. “Get some sleep, Professor. See you in the morning.”

The door closes behind Charlie with a soft snick and Severus curls up beside Harry and finally allows sleep to claim him.

*

“Morning.”

When Severus gets out of the shower and makes his way downstairs a week after Harry’s attack, he finds Harry sitting at the breakfast table with a space beside him. He looks brighter than he has in days, his cheeks rosy and his smile broad. It’s only the faint bruising under his eyes and the bits of his body still covered in bandages that remind Severus what Harry’s been through.

“Should you be out of bed so soon?” Severus glares at the Healer who holds up her hands.

“Don’t look at me, Professor Snape. He was insistent.”

Severus takes the seat next to Harry, scowling at him. “Ever the Gryffindor.”

“Careful. You’re surrounded by them at the moment.” Harry nods in the direction of Granger and Weasley, and Molly appears from nowhere fussing over Severus and bringing a fresh pot of tea.

“Severus! At last. Harry’s been waiting for you, he has some news.”

“Does he, indeed?” Severus rakes his eyes over Harry who looks away, his cheeks heating.

“I was just about to tell you.”

“The suspense is killing me, Potter. Do spit it out.”

Harry huffs with laughter, his fingers resting lightly on Severus’ leg underneath the table. With a sigh, Severus rests his hand over Harry’s and their fingers twine together. Just for good measure he gives Harry’s hand a light squeeze to let him know however miserable his outward appearance might seem he really is glad Harry’s up and making a nuisance of himself again.

“The Healers think I should be able to go home tomorrow.”

Severus stares at Harry, torn between wanting time with Harry alone and worry that he’s bound to cause more damage by trying to rush his recovery.

“Out of the question. You can’t return to Grimmauld Place unsupervised.”

Harry busies himself putting lashings of marmalade on his toast and Severus is assaulted by the memory of sweet, citrusy kisses and breakfast in bed. He disengages his hand from Harry’s to allow him to access his tea, sliding his arm around the back of Harry’s chair when he’s poured a piping hot cup and had a couple of mouthfuls of hot, buttered toast. He’s not usually a man for public displays of affection but it’s as if he can’t go a moment without touching Harry now, as if he needs that contact to assure him Harry is still alive.

“I’m not sure Harry was thinking of Grimmauld Place, Professor.” Granger speaks quietly and Severus frowns at her, while Harry hisses Hermione in an affronted fashion.

“Grimmauld Place would be fine,” Harry pipes up without looking at Severus. “I’m strong enough to do magic and I can get around okay.”

“That’s not what your Healers recommend, Harry.” Arthur takes a seat at the table and gives Harry a worried frown. “You’re going to need help for at least the next month or so.”

“I’m not an invalid,” Harry mutters.

“You can stay here until you’re well enough. We’ll have plenty of room when everyone returns home.” Molly puts a fresh batch of pastries on the table and sits next to Arthur.

The air around Severus is suddenly cold because of course Molly and Arthur expect him to return home. Granger and Weasley must have their own lives outside of the Burrow and from bits of small talk it’s clear they share a newly purchased home together. The idea of leaving Harry at the Burrow and paying formal, stilted visits on occasion is unappealing to say the least. He’s already had to ask Arthur as politely as he can to pour the damn firewhisky and stop asking about Severus’ intentions.

“There is, of course, another alternative.” Severus brushes his fingers to the nape of Harry’s neck.

“There is?” Harry looks at Severus, his tone hopeful. The breath catches in Severus’ lungs and he nods while he holds Harry’s gaze. “What’s that, then?”

Severus glowers at Harry. “Is it so difficult to guess?”

“You’re always pointing out you’re not a mind-reader and you’re the Legilimens.” Harry sounds more cheerful, sucking a little marmalade off his thumb. “You make me tell you what I want all the time even when you know exactly what I’m after.”

Severus pinches the bridge of his nose and sincerely hopes nobody else picks up on the fact Harry’s talking about their sex life at the breakfast table. “That’s entirely different.”

“Nope. Not really.”

Severus growls. “You’re coming to Spinner’s End with me, you insufferable brat and I’ll hear no more about you playing the martyr at Grimmauld Place or getting under Molly and Arthur’s feet. Now drink your tea.”

A smile plays over Harry’s lips and he brings the mug to his lips, his eyes dancing. “Better?”

Severus brushes his fingers through Harry’s hair, still glaring. “Barely tolerable.”

“What just happened?” Weasley sounds uncertain and Granger giggles.

“I think it’s called flirting. Oh, and Harry’s going to live with Professor Snape for a bit.” She sighs happily. “I think it’s rather romantic.”

Severus really wishes he could still take House Points and returns to his toast in an effort to maintain a little of his dignity.

*

It’s a group effort to pack Harry’s things as the Healer explains the various potions and care required as if Severus is an incompetent student.

“I’m familiar with simple pain-relieving potions.” He gives her a haughty look and holds the bottle up. “I can assure you I have far better remedies than this in my personal stores.”

She rolls her eyes. “Of course you do. I’ll visit regularly, of course.”

“Not too regularly, I hope.” Severus huffs and bundles the items of Harry’s clothing into a small case. The effort of spending the past couple of days out of bed has taken its toll on Harry and he watches Severus from the bed, his eyelids drooping with sleep.

“We’ll leave in the morning?” He reaches out his hand and Severus brushes his thumb over Harry’s palm.

“Yes, after breakfast. I believe Molly wants to ensure you’re properly fed before you’re subjected to my cooking.”

“I like your cooking just fine.” Harry squeezes Severus’ hand and then looks to the Healer. “Could you give us a moment?”

The room clears and Severus takes a seat next to the bed, contemplating Harry. “I would really prefer you save any grand declarations for when we’re in private, if you can contain yourself for long enough.”

Harry snorts and he shakes his head. “No grand declarations.”

There’s a hesitancy to Harry’s voice and Severus reaches for him again. “Talk to me, Potter.”

“It’s been all over the press, the attack.” Harry’s voice is stilted, his lips turned down at the corners and worry etched on his face.

“Naturally. Your adoring fans want to know that you have no intention of leaving them just yet.”

“They’ll find out where I am and probably put two and two together and come up with all sorts.”

“Indeed.” Severus strokes his fingers over the lines on Harry’s forehead as if that might smooth his frown away. “Molly and Arthur suggested a short press release. We can discuss it whenever you’re ready.”

“What would it say, though?” Harry’s frown deepens and he blinks up at Severus. “I’m staying with you because you’re good at potions and stuff?”

Severus snorts. “If you wish, although I hope it might be a little more eloquent.”

Harry lets out a frustrated sound and he shifts up on the bed before a bolt of pain seems to knock the breath from his lungs. “Fuck, I…”

“Stop worrying, Harry.” Severus stills him and he presses his lips to Harry’s forehead which is hot and clammy. “You need to rest.” He pauses and then he kisses Harry on the lips, a soft, chaste kiss which Harry tries to chase when he pulls back.

“Come back.”

“Kissing isn’t resting.”

“I don’t know, felt pretty therapeutic to me.”

“Idiot.”

“Why are you always so annoying?” Harry collapses back onto the bed, a yawn escaping him even as he tries to keep his eyes open. “You don’t mind if the press starts speculating about us?”

Severus does mind. He minds that Harry’s life is laid bare to the wider public. He minds that people who don’t even know Harry think they’re entitled to make judgments about him just because he’s a public figure through no wish or desire of his own. He minds that the press will doubtless attempt to discredit Severus as corrupting the bright star of the wizarding world.

He minds all of those things, but not as much as he minded finding out about Harry’s attack from the same press he loathes.

“We could, of course, use the press release to pre-empt any such speculation.”

“We could?” Harry’s eyes open and he tips his head to the side to study Severus. “What would we say?”

“I would prefer to avoid anything too flowery. A simple statement about the nature of our relationship should suffice.”

“Something like Harry Potter’s recovering well and looking forward to a mind-blowing shag when he’s fully recuperated – former Hogwarts Professor Severus Snape plans to help with both the recovery and the shagging?” A smile plays over Harry’s lips.

“Yes, Potter. Exactly what I had in mind. Please do tell the press all about your voracious sexual appetite.”

“My what?” Harry bursts out laughing and the air in the room hums with it, making Severus warm all over. “Is that Severus for I’m always horny?”

“It’s Severus for get some bloody rest and stop worrying.”

Severus stands with a stretch and puts away the last of the bottles.

“Severus?”

“Potter.”

“I’m glad we’re going home soon.”

Severus hums his agreement and tries not to focus too deeply on just how good those words feel.

Spinner’s End, one month later

It’s remarkably easy sharing his space with Harry. Severus supposes they’ve been doing it for some time, but with Potter’s clothing tucked into his wardrobe and the litany of potions on the bedside cabinet, the move is more serious than the casual nights spent with one another before the attack.

“Do you remember when I asked you if we could tell people?”

“Which time?” Severus pours Harry a small glass of wine, just a taste which won’t interfere with his potions. His stomach is pleasantly full from the evening meal they cooked together after Harry felt well enough to spend the evening out of bed, making a nuisance of himself in the kitchen.

“I did bring it up a lot, in the end.” Harry pulls a face and then looks at the Prophet with its grainy article speculating about Harry’s relationship with Severus. “What made you change your mind?”

“I would have thought that was obvious.”

Harry closes the paper and he shrugs. “Because I got hurt. Because you’ve got to be nice to me when I’m still not well?”

“When am I ever nice to you?” Severus glares when Harry laughs softly in response.

“More than you probably think, actually.”

“It has nothing to do with pandering to your every whim for fear of causing a relapse if that’s what concerns you.” Severus takes in the way the tension leaves Harry’s shoulders and he chooses his words carefully. “I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy being kept in the dark where you’re concerned. I wouldn’t wish for you to have a similar experience and nor do I want that repeated.”

Harry looks at the paper again, the colour leaving his cheeks. “I’m not sure what I’d have done if I’d read something like that.”

“Indeed.” Severus tries to shake the memory of the hot panic coursing through his veins. The nightmares he has these days are less to do with the Dark Lord’s practiced knack for Cruciatus and far more to do with the images of Harry’s body; bloody, broken and bruised. “While we’re on the topic of being kept in the dark, is there a reason you neglected to tell me anything about your life being in danger?”

“Oh, that.” Harry meets Severus’ eyes and his breath leaves him in a whoosh. “I should have told you more about the group in America, I know that now.”

“Clearly.” Severus waits, watching Harry because I should have doesn’t answer Severus’ question.

“It’s not unusual for me to get death threats. I can’t tell you about every idiot that sends me Howlers or owls, otherwise we’d spend the whole time talking about that stuff and I don’t particularly want to.”

Severus growls, low in his throat. “I beg to differ. You absolutely can tell me about every single one. If I have to see to it personally that all threats are eradicated-”

“No!” Harry holds up his hand, his voice firm and his eyes clear and focused. His jaw tightens. “Don’t you see? I didn’t want to worry you, but also because I don’t want you to do this.”

A familiar anger curls through Severus and he scowls at Harry. “You don’t expect me to want to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again?”

“How’re you going to do that?”

Severus stands and folds his arms, staring down at Harry. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Harry’s jaw works and he shakes his head. “You can’t be with me every second of the day. I’m going to go to work and go out and you won’t always be there.”

The thought of Harry out without him now makes Severus’ palms clammy and he presses his lips together. “Then we can devise a spell of some sort. To ensure if there is any danger I will be aware of it immediately.”

“There’s a Patronus for that.” Harry glares at Severus. “Unless you’re thinking of a tracking spell.”

“Well, I’m sure something could be easily devised-”

“No chance.” Harry snorts and he folds his arms, tipping his chin in a gesture of defiance. “You’ve spent half your bloody life keeping me safe. You’ve been tortured because of it. You nearly died from Nagini’s bite and you ended up in Azkaban as thanks for it all. Now you’re planning to spend every free moment tracking me to see if I’ve managed to get myself off the loo okay and got into work without tripping over my shoelaces?”

Severus pinches the bridge of his nose. “I would hardly compare being attacked with multiple curses and nearly dying from the trauma to tripping over your shoelaces. I promise not to descend on you every time you get a paper cut.”

“No, Severus. You’re not going to live like that again.” Harry’s voice is quiet but firm. “I know what that’s done to you. What about me looking after you for a change?”

“I’m not the one receiving daily death threats.” Severus clenches his hands into fists. “Besides, I’m quite capable of looking after myself.”

“So am I!” Harry’s voice raises, his cheeks flushed pink. “I’m not a child anymore. I was about to be promoted to Head Auror before all this. If I don’t tell you every little thing it’s because loads of stuff I do is dangerous and it’s not your job to protect me anymore.”

“If the threat is serious enough to warrant round the clock protection, you don’t think it’s worth discussing with somebody you’re supposed to share important information with?” Severus sneers at Harry.

Harry frowns. “I do. I promise if there’s anything serious like that going on, I’ll talk to you. But you can’t be there all the time and I won’t have you spending the rest of your life working on elaborate spells and potions to make sure I don’t get killed.”

“I wasn’t aware you resent being looked after so much. It’s rather unfortunate, given our current predicament.” Severus stands and begins to pace, refusing to look at Harry.

“Of course I don’t mind being looked after, you pillock. I can’t shower without needing a hand at the moment. I’m sleeping half the day and I feel like shit most of the time. I’m dying to get out on my broom again and I’d kill to feel good enough to go out for a pint at the Leaky. Sit down, will you? You’re making me dizzy swooping around like that.”

Severus harrumphs but sits down nevertheless. “I understood you rather liked being looked after before the attack, too. Was I mistaken?”

Harry’s brow furrows and then his cheeks turn pink. He rubs his hand on the back of his neck and flushes to the tips of his ears as he looks at Severus. “In bed, you mean?”

“On occasion.” Severus inclines his head, the memory of a couple of nights in particular going some way to quell his anger.

“I like that.” Harry clears his throat and picks at some invisible spot on his jeans. “I feel like I need it sometimes. Those times when you’re rough with me and what comes after. The times when you’re not rough at all and we pretend I’m…”

“When you like to be praised,” Severus finishes. He reaches for Harry and rubs his thumb over Harry’s hand. “I’m rather fond of that, too. You have no issue with it continuing?”

“Yeah. That would be…good.” A light shiver passes through Harry until eventually he looks up, swallowing thickly. “I just need you to trust me to look after myself when I’m not with you.”

Severus thinks of the times he’s watched Harry at the Ministry and in the press over the years. He has no doubt Harry is capable of handling himself. “I do.”

Harry nods and the tension ebbs from the room. He gives Severus a small smile. “I only want to lean on you if you’re going to lean back.”

Severus studies Harry closely and nods after a long pause. “It doesn’t always come easily to me.”

“I know that.” Harry sits back in his chair, contemplating Severus. “I also know why you want to kill them all. I would, too.”

“You would apprehend them and ensure justice was served.” Severus’ lips quirk into a smile. “I would cast Unforgivables.”

Harry shrugs and he looks at his hands. “Maybe. I know why you’d want to. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. I hope never have to find out.”

“Indeed.”

The frown still doesn’t leave Harry’s face. “Severus?”

“Yes?” Severus knows from experience that when it comes to certain things, Harry finds the words difficult to form and the less Severus says in those moments the better. Harry has a tendency to babble when he’s nervous about something and he always ends up getting there in a roundabout way.

“Do you know what I was saying every time I asked you if we could tell people?” Harry’s voice is clear and he keeps his focus on Severus.

“I believe I was there for those conversations.” Severus takes in the peculiar pained look on Harry’s face and he frowns. “Was there some secret code I’m not privy to?”

“Maybe.” Now Harry blushes and his frown smooths away. He looks down at his hands and then up again and when he does so, the look on his face takes Severus’ breath away. It’s the way Harry looks at him sometimes when he thinks Severus doesn’t notice. It takes him back to the classroom and the air filled with dust and Harry’s whispers and cries. It takes him back to a scorching kiss which opened up a path Severus had never considered for himself.

“Harry…”

“You already know, don’t you?” Harry stands and with a wince he moves onto his knees and puts his hands on Severus’ thighs. He’s less mobile now and Severus knows from his injuries that the motion and the simple act of kneeling must be incredibly painful.

“Get off the floor you little twit. You’re going to injure yourself again.”

“In a minute.” Harry works his hands over Severus’ thighs and aside from a few slow kisses it really is the first hint of anything more they’ve had since the attack. Severus bites back a groan at the way Harry makes his skin hot and his body zing with pleasure. “I just wanted you to know, I’m stupid about you.”

“You’re certainly stupid.” There’s no malice in Severus’ words. Instead they’re impossibly fond and he balks at the sound of that tone he’s come to think of as his Harry voice making its way into the quiet room and settling between them. “Come up here.”

“It’s been ages since I’ve been on my knees for you. Won’t you let me?”

“There are far more comfortable positions for you if that’s something you really want.” Severus stands and helps Harry up, running his hands down his back and pulling him close. He enjoys the way Harry’s breath hitches and he brushes his lips to Harry’s ear.

“Perhaps I have a tendency to be a little daft when it comes to you too.”

“I know.” Harry’s words leave him with a bright burst of laughter and he holds onto Severus more tightly. “Yeah, I know. A tracking spell. Bloody hell, Severus.”

Severus huffs into Harry’s hair and holds him closer. He clearly isn’t doing half as well at masking his own side-long glances at Harry as he thought.

“Do you want to finish your wine?”

“Not particularly.” Harry pulls back and he gives Severus a grin which has him looking like his old self. “Take me to bed, will you?”

Severus does just that.

*

It’s difficult at first, finding their way together again. Severus is too conscious of hurting Harry, interjecting at any given moment to tell him slowly or gently or for the love of Merlin, Potter, you’re going to give us both brain damage.

Eventually, Harry pushes Severus back from the line of gentle kisses he’s placing along Harry’s stomach and he gives Severus a fierce look.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Severus glares at Harry and sits back on his heels. “I was trying to kiss you, you ungrateful urchin.”

“You’re being weird.” Harry huffs a bit and then tugs Severus back up into a kiss, speaking against his lips. “Do you remember when I told you how it feels when I think I’m going to burst out of my skin?”

“I’m not senile quite yet.” Severus’ cock fattens as he remembers Harry’s pleas, broken and wanting. He’s always loved Harry when he lets himself go completely under Severus’ hands.

“Well, then. You’ve never treated me like china before. I’m not going to break.”

But you did, Severus wants to say. Do you know your heart stopped and they had to shock it back to life again? You broke everywhere. In so many places. You broke so hard I didn’t think anyone would be able to put the pieces together again. He swallows back the images of Harry on that night and focuses instead on Harry’s kisses over the still tender scar on his neck.

“I’m aware of that. However, you’re still in recovery with some way to go and it would be remiss of me to-”

“Bloody hell, Severus.” Harry twines his hands into Severus’ hair and he pulls him into a deep kiss. It’s the kind of kiss Severus hasn’t had for some time and when Harry’s licking into his mouth and crushing their lips together, he’s reminded how much he’s missed it. How much he’s missed Harry, hot and eager and shuddering beneath him. The sounds he can pull from Harry’s lips just by kissing him are sinfully decadent. Severus once told Harry he could make a fortune from bottling the memory of them, not that he would ever truly be able to share this side of Harry with anyone else. The sounds he elicits are just for Severus and he guards them jealously.

“Tell me what you want.” Severus runs his hand over Harry’s body. Despite Harry’s words he minds the purpling bruises and the deep wounds which are slowly healing.

“I’m not sure about fucking…I don’t know if I can…” Harry’s words leave him in a rush of panic and he lets out a choked, frustrated sound. “I want to. I want you so much, but my…I don’t know if I can kneel yet for that long or…”

“Hush.” Severus uses the tone he sometimes uses when Harry wakes in the middle of the night gulping in deep breaths of air. He uses the same note of command he has when he sees Harry scratching at his arm, absentminded as he stares off into the distance. “I won’t treat you like china but I also refuse to aggravate your injuries. We have plenty of time and lots of alternatives we can both enjoy.” Severus brushes his lips to Harry’s ear. “Relax, Harry.”

It seems to do the trick and Harry melts back onto the bed. Severus thinks not for the first time how good Harry looks like this, naked and stretched out on his sheets. This time when he sees the way Harry’s eyes darken he knows that Harry feels it too.

Severus makes his way down Harry’s body again, lingering on the bruises and the wounds that are beginning to scar. This time he isn’t fleeting and gentle, although he takes his time. When he reaches Harry’s cock and breathes lightly over it, Harry’s hands knot in the sheets and he arches up a little towards Severus.

“So long. It’s been so long. Fuck. Please, Severus?”

Severus wants to tell Harry to be patient and to tease his orgasm from him with slow strokes until Harry falls apart under his hands. In truth it’s been so long for him too, he can’t manage the slow, languid approach. He needs to taste Harry again – to breathe in the soapy, musky scent of him and to feel him pulse on his tongue, his cock hard and heavy in Severus’ mouth.

With a groan, he pushes down around Harry. He gets his length slick with saliva, moving up and down and running his tongue into the slit of Harry’s cock to gather up the salty pre-come already leaking from the tip. Harry shifts his legs wide in silent invitation, a whimper falling from his lips. With another groan, Severus murmurs a spell to slick his fingers. Harry loves Severus’ hands, he always says so when he’s mid-way through fucking, his pupils blown wide with arousal. Severus fully intends to give Harry every last bit of pleasure he can manage.

He pushes a finger inside Harry and takes him into his mouth again. He’s so tight and hot, eagerly accepting the intrusion with a low shout of pleasure. Severus hums around Harry’s cock, working a second finger inside him and fucking him slowly with them. He loves fingering Harry to orgasm – knowing it’s just about the act of bringing pleasure instead of preparing Harry for the next stage. Harry’s always been so beautifully responsive; so heart-stoppingly eager for the things Severus likes to do to him. It never fails to amaze Severus how well their interests align in bed and in other aspects of their lives.

When Severus strokes his fingers inside Harry, it doesn’t take long for Harry to come deep in Severus’ throat. His cock pulses and Severus swallows every last bit, pulling back only when Harry has been wrung completely dry. When Harry tries to shift and struggles to turn, Severus puts his hand on his hip and shakes his head.

“Stay exactly where you are. Put your hands over your head.”

“Okay.” Harry looks like he wants to complain, but instead he puts his hands over his head and stares at Severus.

Perfect.” With another murmured spell, Severus slicks his cock and slides his hand over it as he looks into Harry’s eyes. It really shouldn’t be this intimate, stroking himself while Harry watches. It shouldn’t make his chest tight or his heart pound more quickly when Harry’s eyes widen as he catches on to Severus’ plan. There’s time enough to push his cock past Harry’s lips or to find out the best position for moving deep inside him. For now, this is all Severus wants: to watch Harry and to be watched in return.

As Harry wriggles beneath him and small oh, ohs of pleasure leave his well-kissed lips, Severus’ orgasm takes him by surprise. With blinding force he comes over Harry’s chest, streaking over his torso. Harry’s response is to drop his hand finally and run his fingers over his chest, sliding two of them into his mouth and not once looking away from Severus.

Harry.”

It’s all Severus can manage, loose-limbed and satiated. He can’t find the words to tell Harry how glad he is he’s alive, or even the words to tell him he’s a tease or a brat or any of the insults of choice which Severus uses to mask how very, very fond he is of Harry Potter of all people.

All he can manage is a broken murmur of Harry’s name while he swallows back the tears which have threatened to fall from the first time he saw the pictures of Harry in the paper.

For now, for both of them, it’s enough.

Ministry of Magic Awards Dinner, December 2002

When Harry joins Severus on the balcony he has the courtesy to remember to bring champagne.

“Can we go soon? I’ve had to speak to Lucius Malfoy about investments. I’m was tempted to poke him with my stick just to get rid of him.”

Harry’s recovery has been slow but steady. At events where he’s likely to be on his feet for much of the evening, he still needs a little assistance and he uses a stick to take the pressure off his left leg which was particularly badly damaged in the attack.

“There will be no poking of anything.” Severus snorts and wraps his arm around Harry to help him take some of the weight off his leg. He would never say as much out loud but he enjoys how well he and Harry know one another’s bodies by now, in more ways than one. “Ordinarily I would be quite happy to leave but I’m afraid you’re going to have to endure being adored by the press and Ministry sycophants for a little while longer.”

“I wonder if there’s anybody else here that adores me?” Harry nudges closer, cheeky brat that he is.

“Most decidedly not.” Severus rolls his eyes but presses a kiss to Harry’s hair nevertheless. He tells himself it’s because it’s frosty out this evening, not because Harry’s wearing his favourite robes and spent most of supper eating chocolate desert in a manner which could only be described as sinful. “I’ve decided you’re no longer allowed chocolate at formal events. If you can’t be trusted to eat without practically fellating your spoon, I don’t think you should be rewarded with chocolate.”

“It was hardly fellating, Severus.” Harry lets out a snort of laughter. “If you like, I could show you exactly how I-”

“Potter!” Severus growls and yanks Harry closer to him, glaring at him. “Do shut up.”

“Gladly.” Harry’s expression is fierce and dizzying and he leans into Severus, capturing his lips in a warm kiss. Despite the chill in the air, every inch of Harry is hot against his body. Severus slides his hands into Harry’s hair to deepen the kiss, pulling back only when he worries they’re on the cusp of making a public disgrace of themselves.

“You really are a menace.”

“You’ve known that for ages.” Harry brushes his lips to Severus’ jaw and rocks lightly into him with a low groan. “Please can we go home?”

It never fails to send a rush of heat through Severus when Harry talks of home. Harry didn’t leave Spinner’s End when he was told he could live alone again. After an awkward silence while they packed Harry’s clothes into a small case, Severus had finally wrapped his arms around Harry and told him the sort of things that would only ever be for Harry’s ears. It did the trick and the suitcase was quickly unpacked, when they found a moment to do so in between lazy kisses and hours tangled together under the sheets.

“I thought you might like to stay for the fireworks.”

That gets Harry’s attention and he pulls back from the distracting kisses he’s pressing against Severus’ throat. “There’s fireworks? That’s new.”

“Indeed. The Ministry’s obviously feeling flush this year.”

“Not sure why.” Harry pulls a face. He looks torn, looking at the dark sky with shining eyes and then back at Severus. “Do you want to stay for the fireworks?”

Severus thanks his lucky stars that it’s a dark night and he doesn’t blush easily. “Only because I would never hear the end of it if I dragged you home without giving you an opportunity to be an insufferable romantic.”

“I see. Only because of that.” Harry’s grin is broad and he gives Severus another slow kiss before leaning back against his side. “Well, then. Fireworks it is. Romance first, shagging later. Easy on the champagne, Severus. You’re not as young as you used to be.”

The yelp Harry lets out when Severus swats him on the backside is worth it. He wraps his arms around Harry and keeps him steady, while they watch the stars. The grounds begin to crowd with witches and wizards in colourful, formal robes and Severus nudges Harry.

“We should go and join the fray.”

“I like the shadows sometimes. They’re quiet.” Harry squeezes Severus’ hand, his voice low. “Don’t you remember?”

“I’m hardly likely to forget.” Severus glances at Harry. “My life took a somewhat unexpected path when you first came to join me in the shadows.”

“Good unexpected, of course.” Harry gives Severus a lopsided smile and leans against him again, watching the stars.

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Harry laughs, rich and low. “Let’s watch the fireworks from here. I’ve spent all night with everyone else and I don’t much fancy walking all the way down there.”

“Are you in any discomfort?”

“Shush, no. I’m just comfortable. Stop worrying.” Harry presses as close to Severus as he can. “I just want to be somewhere private so I can tell you stuff that isn’t for anyone else to hear.”

“How fortunate for me.” Severus’ tone is dry and light, but in truth he still relishes these quiet moments with Harry when their lives are full of more people than ever before. Harry’s always been better with people than Severus and it’s satisfying to know Harry still enjoys these moments too. “I suppose we can see them well enough from here.”

“I bet we’ll have the best view of all.”

Severus turns to Harry, who gives him another one of the looks which takes Severus’ breath away.

“Yes.” Severus allows himself another quick kiss before turning back to watch the first firework explode in the indigo sky. “On that, I would have to agree.”

~Fin~