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The Next Level

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“So how did your date go with Aaron last week?” Hermione asked over lunch.

Harry shrugged. “It was okay.”

“Are you going to see him again?”

Harry made a face. “Probably not.”

Hermione sighed. “Harry, you deserve to find happiness with someone, but you have to make an effort! How are you ever going to find someone to share your life with if you keep up this attitude?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I imagine I’ll manage, Hermione, but maybe at my own pace, yeah?”

“At a snail’s pace, you mean,” she muttered. “If I wait for you to find someone we’ll all be fifty and you’ll still be single.”

Harry snorted. “I’m twenty-two. I doubt the world will end if I see twenty-three as a single bloke.”

“Yeah, what’s the big deal?” Ron chimed in, snagging one of Harry’s chips. “Let Harry enjoy his remaining days of freedom.”

Harry bit back a grin. Sometimes Ron could be extraordinarily thick. Like now, for instance…

“Freedom?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Is that what the single life is to you? Freedom? So being married to me means you’re trapped, does it?” Her voice was getting steadily louder as she spoke.

Ron shot a panicked look at Harry, who shook his head in sympathy. “No! I just meant when Harry finds the right bloke to be with he’ll never miss being free. I mean single! I mean—” He shoved the chip in his mouth and chewed.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Surely there’s someone you like?” she persisted, turning her attention back towards Harry. “What about Michael in Accounting?”

Harry shook his head. “The same one who was selling pictures of me saying he was my ‘agent’? No thanks.”

“Ah, right.” Hermione chewed her bottom lip. “Paul in Administration?”

“Too messy.”

“You’re calling someone else messy?” Hermione said. “I’ve seen your flat.”

Harry stuck his tongue out at her. “He hasn’t been seen in days. Going theory is that one of the dust bunnies under his desk grew so big it ate him.”

Hermione coughed. “That’s horrible.” But she was smiling.

Harry crossed his arms. “Right, who else? May as well get it off your chest now. I know you’ve probably got a list on you somewhere.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Fine.” Whipping a parchment out of her robes, she smirked. “Amos the Unspeakable.”

“Too quiet. It’s creepy.”

“Simon in International Quidditch.”

“Too loud. It’s obnoxious.”

“William in the library.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “The one who lives with twelve cats?”

Hermione coughed. “Peter in Marketing.”

“Ugh, his name makes me think of Wormtail,” Harry said.

“His face does, too,” muttered Ron.

Hermione sighed but didn’t argue. “David in Potions Development.”

“Last I heard he was dating Patil.”

Hermione frowned. “Which one?”

“Both I think.” Harry grinned as Hermione blushed. For someone who was so worldly, she could be easily shocked by the oddest things. He glanced at the clock and sighed. “And as fun as this has been, I have to go. Lunch only lasts so long.”

Nodding, Ron wiped his mouth and stood. “Yeah, it’s time we get back. We’ve a post-lunch meeting.”

“Fine.” Hermione had that look on her face. The one that meant Harry hadn’t heard the last of this. “But I’m going to find someone for you. It’s time you had a relationship that makes it to the next level.”

“Uh huh,” Harry said. “See you later.”

“Best watch out, mate,” Ron hissed as they walked away. “She’s pretty determined.”

“So am I,” replied Harry. He wasn’t about to get stuck with some git just because Hermione had decided he needed to be in a relationship. Enough was enough! But he had clearly forgotten his best friend’s tenacity. He remembered it when Parvati approached him the following Monday. “A what now?” he asked.

Parvati’s smile was a bit patronising. “It’s an interdepartmental meet and greet. We decided there are too many people working in the Ministry who don’t know each other.”

“We?” Harry asked, eyebrow raised.

“Several of us who have been talking about it. We came up with this proposal, and all the department heads agreed.”

Harry almost snorted. This had Hermione’s signature all over it. “So what’s involved?”

“Every evening this week there’s going to be a reception in the lobby featuring displays talking about what each department does. And there will be refreshments.” Parvati held up clipboard. “I’ll mark you as a yes, then? Although it’s required, so it’s not as if you have a choice.”

Of course it was. Harry sighed. “Then I suppose I’ll be there,” he said, returning to his reports, and by the time evening rolled around, he’d actually forgotten about it. It was only when he stepped into the lobby and saw all the people milling about, drinks in hand, that he remembered.

Skirting the edges of the crowd, he’d almost made it to the exit Floos when—

“Harry! There you are!” Hermione, a determined look on her face, was approaching at speed.

Harry almost groaned. Bracing himself for impact, he exhaled, then blinked as someone grasped his arm. “There you are,” said Severus Snape, looking for all the world as if he’d been seeking Harry.

“Snape?” Harry looked him over. Bloody hell, he actually looked good. His nose was still a bit too big, and he was quite thin, but he’d definitely gained weight since the war, so his features had filled out. His black eyes glittered, and his blue-black hair shone. Clad in his habitual multi buttoned robes, he looked imposing. Harry swallowed. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” Snape said tersely. He looked around suspiciously. “Do you want to get out of this ridiculous…event?”

“Er, yeah,” Harry said, confused. “Pretty much. What do you have in mind?”

Snape leaned in. “Follow my lead on this, Potter, and we can both escape this nightmare unscathed,” he hissed.

Still confused, Harry nevertheless nodded. “Okay,” he whispered back.

“Harry?” And Hermione was there, looking back and forth between Harry and Snape suspiciously. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” Harry sidled closer to Snape, who wasn’t exactly smiling, but who wasn’t scowling either. “Snape and I were just—”

“Now what did I tell you earlier, Harry?” Snape all but purred. “Call me Severus.”

Harry wondered when he’d fallen into an alternate universe. He fumbled for words for a moment. “Right! Of course. Anyway, Severus and I were just off to, um—”

“Grab a coffee,” Snape supplied. “We’ve seen all the fascinating exhibits and decided it’s time to go.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “You didn't stop by my display.”

“Because we know what you do,” Harry said. “You save the world, one defendant at a time.”

“Hm.” Hermione inclined her head. “Very well.” Her eyes flicked to Snape and something flashed in her eyes. Slowly, she smiled. “Enjoy your…coffee, then.”

“Thanks,” Harry managed, and arm in arm with Snape, he turned away and they stepped into the Floo.

Once outside, Snape released Harry’s arm, stepping back, his face unreadable. “If you are amenable, we shall do that every evening this week until this execrable event is concluded. Agreed?”

“Yeah, works for me,” Harry said. He hesitated. “Although, knowing Hermione, she’s tracking us or something. So maybe we should actually go for coffee?”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “You honestly think—?” He paused. “You could be correct. Ms Granger has always been extraordinarily tenacious. Very well.”

“I know a coffee place a few streets over. Shall we?” Harry extended his arm.

After a short hesitation, Snape took his arm. “Proceed.”

They worked out their plan over coffee. “So this is all your fault?” Snape said when Harry confessed that he was pretty sure this was Hermione’s way of trying to find him a boyfriend. “Of course it is.”

“Hey, I didn’t plan it! I keep telling her I’m fine, I don’t need a relationship, but she pretty determined.”

“Indeed she is.” Snape peered into his coffee cup for a moment. “Do you think she would leave you alone if she thought we were in a relationship?”

Harry blinked. “I…yes, I do. I mean, I’m not sure she’d believe it—”

“Because I’m not up to your level?” Snape snapped.

Harry’s mouth fell open. “What? No! Are you mad? You’re a bloody war hero. She thinks you’re brilliant. It’s just…I’ve never said anything to her about being interested in you, so it would be coming out of the blue.”

“I see.” Snape regarded him for a moment. “As it turns out, my supervisor is also convinced I should be…involved with someone. She has been most persistent recently.”

Harry smiled. “So this could be as much your fault as mine?”

“Perhaps,” Snape allowed.

Harry grinned. “So, what if we pretend we’re in a relationship? For say, a month. Maybe then they’d leave us alone.”

“Possibly.” Snape raised an eyebrow. “Would you be willing to do that?”

“Sure.” Harry ignored the flare of nerves the thought of dating Snape gave him. “We need to work out our stories, though. Hermione’s going to have lots of questions.”

Snape hummed. “So will Matilda. Very well.”

It was late into the night when they’d finally talked about their lives and worked everything out.

“…finally, since you’re an Unspeakable, I don’t have to know too much about your job, so that’s good,” said Harry, stifling a yawn. “And I’m an Auror, and everyone knows what we do, so we should be fine on that front, too.”

Sipping his coffee, Snape hummed. “This all seems extraordinarily detailed for something that doesn’t have to go longer than a month or so.”

Harry shook his head. “Trust me. You don’t know Hermione Granger.”

And when, the following evening, Hermione marched up to them and started firing questions, Harry snuck a triumphant look at Snape, who inclined his head infinitesimally in acknowledgement.

Snape’s supervisor, an intimidatingly tall woman with piercing eyes, was just as persistent when she approached after Hermione to question them.

But they clearly passed those tests since afterward, they were left alone.

The week passed quickly, with Harry and Snape escaping the interdepartmental mingling events early every night. To ensure it looked like they were in a relationship, they went out afterwards, usually to a restaurant, where they ate dinner and told each other amusing stories about their jobs.

It felt like dating, and after two weeks of it, Harry was confused.

He finally confessed what was happening to Ron.

“So this was all the get Hermione off your back?” Ron shook his head. “Bloody hell, mate, you don’t do things by halves, do you?”

Harry groaned. “It seemed like a good plan at the time! And Hermione’s stopped haranguing me about getting a boyfriend.” He smiled weakly. “Now all she harangues me about is bring Snape over for dinner.”

Ron laughed. “Warn me before that happens, yeah?”

“Well it’s never going to happen, is it?” Harry bit his lip. “I mean we’re not really dating are we? So there’s no reason for him to get to know my friends better.”

Leaning forward, Ron stared into Harry’s eyes. “Seems to me like you are dating, though. I mean, what’s the difference between what you’re doing with Snape and what you did with any of the other guys you’ve been out with recently?”

Harry paused. After a moment, he groaned. “Nothing. Except I enjoyed it more with Severus.”

“Exactly.” Ron shrugged. “You’ve dated Snape longer than any of those guys, and you’re still seeing him every night. What do you two do, anyway? Do you have fun together?”

“Yeah, we do. We talk, we laugh. He’s really got a brilliant sense of humor, and his voice makes me—” Harry froze. “Fuck.”

Ron coughed. “Maybe this is more real than you thought.”

“Yes. Fuck,” Harry repeated. “I like Snape. Like really like him.”

“Yep.” Ron smiled sympathetically. “Looks like it. Only one thing to do now, mate.”

Harry closed his eyes. “I have to tell him. Damn.”

That evening when Snape arrived at their predetermined restaurant, Harry was nervous. Snape, as perceptive as he was, quickly picked up on it. “Is something amiss?” he asked, his long fingers toying with his wine glass.

Staring at those fingers, Harry felt heat coiling inside him. How had he not noticed his attraction to Sna—Severus? He liked everything about him, his fingers, his lips, his eyes, his wit. He wanted to unbutton the robes slowly to get to the man beneath. Then he wanted to see him fall apart under Harry’s hands.

“…listening to me?” Severus looked peeved.

“What?” Harry looked up and away from Severus’ fingers. “I’m sorry, I’m just a bit distracted.”

“Is it work?” Severus asked. “You were worried about the Carson case.”

“Oh, that all worked out,” Harry said, struggling to find the words he needed. “This is…something else.”

Severus regarded him for a moment. “It’s time, isn’t it?” he said quietly.

Harry frowned. “Time?”

“For our…whatever this has been, to end.” Severus exhaled, looking away. “I must confess, I have enjoyed our association. But since you’ve made it clear you’re not interested in a relationship at this time, it’s probably best we end this before your friends get suspicious—”

“No!” Impulsively, Harry grabbed Severus’ wrist. “Please,” he said softly. “I need to say something.”

Severus went still. “Proceed.”

“When we started this I was sure I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want a relationship, especially not one that my friends were pushing me into.”

Severus nodded.

“But then we came up with this plan, and—” Harry swallowed hard. “I like spending time with you. Our…dates are the best part of my day. I don’t want us to stop, I want to continue, I want…I want to take things to the next level.”

“You want a relationship?” Severus’ mouth worked for a moment. “Thank Salazar.”

Harry blinked. “Does that mean you—”

Shifting, Severus placed his other hand atop Harry’s. “Indeed.”

Harry smiled widely. “Brilliant.”

“So,” Severus purred, sending shivers up Harry’s spine, “what exactly do you mean by taking things to the next level?”

Harry signalled for the bill. “Come back to mine with me and I’ll show you,” he said.

They both stumbled when they landed in Harry’s living room, but Severus recovered quickly, pulling Harry towards him and molding their bodies together as he pressed his mouth against Harry’s.

Severus’ lips were soft, moist, and he tasted like the wine they had been drinking. Then their tongues tangled, and the kiss went sensual, languid. Harry couldn’t think anymore, he could only feel.

Somehow they made it to the bedroom, shedding clothes as they moved, until they were both naked and on Harry’s bed.

“You’re sure about this?” Severus asked, even as those clever fingers of his slowly drove Harry mad. “This isn’t too fast?”

Too fast? If he hadn’t been writhing under Severus, arching up against him in a bid to get closer, Harry would have laughed. “Definitely not too fast,” he moaned, gripping Severus’ arse with his hands.

“So I shouldn’t…slow down?” Severus murmured, a wicked glint in his eyes as his fingers slid inside Harry.

“Fuck,” Harry groaned as Severus’ touch made his body light up. “No…please—”

Their kisses were sloppy, messy, perfect, and when Severus draped Harry’s legs over his shoulders and finally pushed inside Harry, Harry could only cling to him and beg him to fuck him faster, harder, deeper, more.

Severus was growling, all semblance of urbanity gone as he thrust in and out of Harry, and when he came he shouted, burying his face in the crook of Harry’s neck.

Harry, on the edge of coming, moved his hand towards his cock, but Severus beat him. It took only a few pulls of his clever hand to have Harry shuddering through his own orgasm as he cried out Severus’ name.

Panting, they lay together, limbs tangled. Severus shifted. “Matilda will be so pleased,” he murmured into Harry’s neck.

Harry laughed softly, running his fingers through Severus’ hair. “So will Hermione. I hope you’re prepared to have lots of dinners with her and Ron. And endure some more cross-examination.”

“As long as you’re prepared to have weekly teas with my supervisor.” Severus sighed. “And endure her questions. Meddling women.”

“Well, in their defence,” Harry said, “they just wanted us to be happy. And I’d say it worked.”

“The gloating will never end,” griped Severus.

Grinning, Harry slid a hand down Severus’ flank to cup his arse. “Do you really care what they think or say?” he asked.

Severus hummed. “No, I suppose not.”

“Good, because I don’t either.” Harry licked his lips. “So, now that we’ve moved things to the next level, maybe we can do that again? I think we’ve a lot of time to make up for.”

And so they did.

~