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Harry Potter does not love Severus Snape for surviving.

There is a certain kind of respect – cautious, kept at a distance – once he knows the truth, but he is not ready at Snape’s bedside with an apology when the Headmaster opens his eyes on Friday, the fifteenth of May, to a Voldemort-free world.

Harry Potter is seventeen-years old. He is tired. He fights the unevenness of his emotions. Oppressing sadness wars with soul-lifting euphoria. The weight of his obligations has shifted. With Prophecy fulfilled, with Voldemort dead, he looks around, observes the living, and counts his losses. He balances them in his mind, against the counterweight of a world without Voldemort.

Snape wants to see him.

Ginny is not there to calm him. He is not sure there will be a Ginny for him. She is working out her anger, and weighing him, he knows, against a new Neville.

He doesn’t blame her. He likes the new Neville too.

Hermione and Ron are not there. They have gone together to Australia, to put the pieces of Hermione’s past back together.

It is Friday, the second of June.

Snape is Snape, but a Snape Harry has never before seen. The hospital pyjamas are not black. His pale face, turned toward him as he walks across the floor, bleeds into the white pillow. He is less imposing on this horizontal plane, and Harry is cautious, not afraid.

Madam Pomfrey stands at the foot of Snape’s bed.

“Five minutes, Headmaster.”

She bustles away and Harry moves one step closer. He stands at the side of the bed, positions himself so that Snape does not have to move his head to see him. The bandages on the neck are heavy and thick, keeping Snape’s head at an angle that must be uncomfortable.

Snape uses up an entire minute staring at him. When he speaks, it is without preamble or introduction of any sort. His voice is…compromised. Yet he leaves Harry with no doubt as to who is in charge at Hogwarts.

“You may stay here. You may return and complete your N.E.W.T.s.” He emphasizes the word “may.” His black eyes are fixed on Harry’s face. “But you should move on. You have outgrown Hogwarts, Mr. Potter. If the Ministry requires N.E.W.T.s, you will contact Professor McGonagall. She will arrange tutoring.”

Harry nods. He can’t think what to say in return. Until this very second, he had not realized he would need permission to stay.

“I will need your decision by your birthday, Mr. Potter.”

Harry nods again. He wonders – briefly – how Snape knows his birthday. Then remembers the Prophecy.

They stare at each other another minute. Harry shifts his weight.

“I….” He should not open his mouth until his thoughts are fully formed. Snape frowns.

“Professor McGonagall put the Pensieve away. Your memories are still in it.” Harry moistens his very dry lips. The next word is more difficult even than he had thought it would be. He says it very softly. “Thanks.”

Snape acknowledges the word with ten seconds of silence. Then -

“Robes, Mr. Potter. While you are at Hogwarts, you will wear your student robes. This is a school, not a tent in a forest.”

Harry stares at Snape. Then he nods, once, a jerky, non-fluid motion.

He is gone from Hogwarts by the fifteenth of July, but until he leaves, he wears his Gryffindor robes.

Snape has given Harry a gift. Robes. A first push toward a return to normalcy.

A greater gift. A second push. Out the door.

And leaving Hogwarts? Being thrown into the deep water, learning to swim. He may not have had a real childhood, and he may have grown up in his year on the run, but he has not ever made his own decisions. Not really.

Horcruxes or hallows?

Was there ever really a choice?

/

Working with George is therapeutic.

In August, Diagon Alley comes alive again. Ollivander is back, and Fortescue, and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Quality Quidditch Supplies discounts the old model Firebolts and Harry stops and looks through the window whenever he passes. He is not a tall man, but is a head taller than the crowds of children pressing against the glass.

Ginny goes back to Hogwarts. Hermione arranges for N.E.W.T. tutoring. Ron is accepted into the Auror’s Corps and receives private tutoring there.

Neville returns to Hogwarts. To Ginny.

Harry lives with George, in the rooms over the shop. Ron lives with them. There are two beds in Harry’s room, and he finds that he sleeps much better on the infrequent nights when there is quiet snoring to rock him to sleep. Ron, disappointed that Harry did not join up with him, nevertheless sees how this arrangement works. He spends most of his nights with Hermione, but Molly likes that he is living with George and Harry, watching over the brokenness, helping to knit the family back together.

Ron needs watching too. They’re all good at watching each other.

Harry, at eighteen, waters down the Firewhisky, cleans the Floo when George throws all the kitchen plates, one after the other, against its bricks one Sunday morning. He meets George at the door some nights, slips ten galleons into his companion’s hand. She leaves without complaint, earning her fee without delivering the goods, and Harry lies in bed with George, and holds him while he weeps.

He helps George brew, and cannot help but think of Snape, and the Half-blood Prince’s book, and the secrets he learned from it. But thoughts of Snape are passing. He sees him once, a Monday in early January, at Gringotts. He’s just made the shop’s deposit, and is heading toward the doors when Snape enters.

Snape slows when he sees him. Gives him a thorough visual inspection. Nods. Says “Good day, Mr. Potter.”

Harry has been giving the Headmaster his own inspection. He looks as he has ever looked, except that his hair is pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck. His face is somehow sallower for it.

Harry responds with a nod. “Good morning, Headmaster.”

At the door, he turns to watch Snape’s progress to the window. His robes are billowing.

Harry smiles as he walks down the stairs toward Diagon Alley.

/

At nineteen, Harry Potter is still trying to make sense of the war.

Fred’s loss is still keen in George. Fred’s ghost Harry sees every day. He has learned to live with it.

He is still angry at Remus. At his selfishness and cowardice. He knows this is not fair.

But Tonks was the Auror. Tonks was the real fighter, despite Remus’ abilities. Someone should have stayed with Teddy. Someone named Remus. Someone should not have left Teddy an orphan.

Hermione tells him that Voldemort left Teddy an orphan, just as Voldemort left him – Harry – an orphan. Just as Voldemort is responsible for Fred’s death, and Lavender’s, and Colin’s.

Hermione is right, except that she’s wrong. One of them should have stayed with Teddy. He forgives Tonks but does not forgive Remus. It’s not fair, and he knows it, but he looks at Andromeda when she visits and Teddy toddles over to the Pygmy Puffs and nearly squeezes one to death before Harry swoops in, saves the purple Puff and lifts Teddy to his hip. Andromeda has lost her husband and her daughter. Bellatrix is dead. Narcissa is self-exiled in France. Teddy is more than a consolation prize but there are many long years between now and when Teddy can care for her as she cares for him, as she cared for Ted and Tonks.

Remus should be here with Teddy so Andromeda can grieve.

He is not angry at Sirius. Sirius’ death is a wound scabbed over, half-healed. He wonders if Sirius ever knew him, if he ever saw more than James in him. And this, too, he knows, is not fair. Sirius was damaged, by James and Lily’s deaths, by Peter’s betrayal, by Azkaban. There was never enough time to know him.

And it was Remus that had kept him from going after Sirius. Remus who had anchored him to this life, but who had left his own child only…

Not even memories.

In hours spent in the shop, brewing with George, manning the counter, stocking the shelves, he contemplates death. He makes peace with it, and moves on. Unbelievably, impossibly, he suggests to George that they expand their business and open a small apothecary, that they sell a limited number of specialty potions. He is living up to the abilities that Horace Slughorn thought he had, learning the nuances of Potion making. He reads everything he can, amuses the hell out of Ron and Hermione. But they support him. They always do.

Ron wonders if Harry will sell Felix Felicis. He has exams coming up and could use some luck. Harry shakes his head. Liquid Luck in potion form is cheating at life. Harry reminds Ron of the Quidditch match, the placebo effect, and tells Ron to study for the exams. He volunteers to practice dueling with Ron, and is inordinately pleased when Ron bests him in three out of five matches.

Liquid Luck.

Liquid Luck did not bring him to Snape on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. It did not win him Snape’s memories. It did not save Snape’s life. There was no Liquid Luck when they rode the dragon out of Gringotts, or when Ron pulled him from the pond in the Forest of Dean.

George and Harry improve Dreamless Sleep. Dreams are not the problem – nightmares are the problem. A potion to keep nightmares at bay, to allow what pleasant dreams may come.

While Harry works alone in the lab while George mans the shop, he ponders the death of Albus Dumbledore.

Harry doesn’t remember his father. He had never had a grandfather. Until he came to Hogwarts, he didn’t understand love in any tangible way. He knows Dumbledore had loved him, just as surely as he knows that Dumbledore used him. He has forgiven him that. Moved on.

But he wonders about Snape. About the Snape and the Dumbledore in Snape’s memories. He wonders if he would have killed Dumbledore if Dumbledore had asked him to.

And he remembers the cave, the lake. The potion and the locket.

And he wonders about Snape again.

And what he had said there, at the end, to Voldemort.

Dumbledore’s men.

He looks down into the cauldron, sees himself reflected there on the shimmering surface, messy hair lank and greasy in the fumes.

And understands.

/

Fleur’s sister Gabrielle moves to London to study, and Harry meets her again at his birthday party at the Burrow. He is twenty-one, she is eighteen. She is his first girlfriend – his first relationship – after Ginny. She is beautiful and young and unbroken. She makes him smile, and laugh.

Hermione doesn’t like her, nor does Ginny, nor does Molly. Perhaps it is not Gabrielle that they dislike, but Harry when he is with her. Robes pressed, boots polished, hair sculpted and gelled, just so. When they are together, he is always touching her. Hand on the small of her back, on her knee when they are sitting together, knuckles grazing her cheek in affection.

He falls for her. Hard.

Falls harder when she leaves him nearly two years later.

He throws himself back into his research. The Restful Slumber potion is selling well, and now Harry is obsessed with making a cream that will fade scars, make them disappear.

Because everyone has scars.

There are scar creams available already, but they work well only when on scars not yet set, months old, not years. They fade older scars, but do almost nothing with scars from hexes, curses, magical objects.

Hermione has a scar on her face, long and thin and narrow. Ron has scars on his upper arms, from the brains in the Ministry of Magic when he was sixteen. The scar on Harry’s hand has been there for eight years now. Bill’s face has been marred for seven, George’s for six.

In the five years it takes to perfect the potion, Harry has one girlfriend and two boyfriends. The boyfriends surprise him. The first is Paul, a friend of Bill and Fleur’s. They meet at Louis’s christening, play against each other as Seekers in the pick-up Quidditch match that follows at the Burrow, and leave together in the evening to find a quiet pub.

George and Angelina have married now, and Harry has his own flat in London. His first kiss with a man is in this flat, just inside the front door, Paul’s lips on his, Paul’s knee between his thighs, Paul’s hands in Harry’s hair. His next boyfriend is much younger, only twenty, and Harry realizes that he wants his men older, and he doesn’t need the excitement and noise of the clubs. He’d rather share a pint in a quiet pub and return to the privacy of his flat and do all sorts of imaginative things without the prying eyes of the public on him.

When Harry is twenty-eight years old, the potion is finally perfected. The scar on his hand is gone. The skin on Ron’s upper arms is once again smooth. Bill’s face is not scar free, but the scars have faded significantly. Harry is still working on perfecting the Potion to treat the scars left from the teeth and claws of magical creatures.

He is surprised – though he should not have been – when Severus Snape walks into their shop. It is Saturday, the sixth of September, 2008.

Harry is sitting on a stool behind the counter. He is reading Potions Quarterly. It is the slowest Saturday of the year, the Saturday after classes start at Hogwarts. It is indeed possible that Severus Snape knows this and has chosen the day of his visit deliberately.

He coughs to get Harry’s attention.

Harry looks up. Later, he would watch Severus’ memory of his face in Dumbledore’s Pensieve. He knows he looks gobsmacked. Scared. Embarrassed.

He has not thought about Snape very much in some years – has not dreamed of him since they perfected the Restful Slumber Potion. He saw him in May, at the ten year anniversary memorial. But there had been hundreds of people and no time to catch up – and no desire to, really, on either of their parts.

Harry scrambles to his feet. Snape’s eyes follow the Potions journal as it falls to the floor. He lifts his eyes and fastens them on Harry’s face.

Harry remains frozen, transfixed by the hand that is approaching him slowly. The hand that pushes back his fringe, the thumb that traces over his scar.

Snape drops his hand and steps back. He cannot completely bury a look of disappointment. The counter is still between them and Harry, understanding, steps forward until his belly is pressing against the wood.

“No – Snape – Headmaster. You don’t understand. I haven’t tried it on that one. I’m not….” He falters here. He has not yet explained this to his friends, to the Weasleys, to the customers who have asked. He tells Snape what he has told the rest. “I’m not ready yet.”

“Not ready?” Snape is scoffing.

“I’ve always had it,” answers Harry, trying to explain, not understanding why it is important now. “I’ve never not had it, not that I can remember, anyway. It makes me remember.”

“You want to remember?” Snape sounds haughty, but he has stepped back up to the counter.

“No. No – I want to be sure is all. Once it’s gone – if I miss it, I mean – I’m not going to ask anyone to launch an unforgiveable at me to get it back.”

Snape stares at him. The corner of his mouth quirks upward. He appears to be trying to pull it back down into a frown.

Harry looks pointedly at the high collar that hides what Harry imagines to be gruesome scars from Nagini’s bite. He has seen that flesh laid open. He knows how ripped, how shredded, that neck once was. He no longer dreams of it. Not with the Restful Slumber potion.

“I think it will help,” he says quietly. “It may take some time. Bill’s been using it for more than a year already.”

He is on his knees behind the counter, spinning the lock of a strongbox. He reaches in and hands Snape something quite unexpected.

A piece of parchment.

Snape stares at it. Realization dawns. Harry sees it when it happens. Snape is surprised. Shocked. He holds onto the parchment. “This…”

Harry squares his shoulders. “The formula,” he says. He looks up and there is an odd expression on his face, a strange light in his eye. “It’s been a while, Professor, but if I’m right, you’ll prefer to brew it yourself.”

Snape is past surprised, past shocked. He is angry. He shakes his fist, parchment clenched in it, in front of Harry’s face.

“Do you know what I could do with this?” he hisses.

Harry stares at him. He nods.

“If it takes away those scars, I don’t care what else you do with it. If it doesn’t – well, if it doesn’t, I’d like to know.”

“Professional curiosity?” Snape bites out.

Harry shrugs. “Mostly,” he responds.

But he is lying.

/

And so it begins.

Snape returns in mid-October. Not to the shop, but to Harry’s flat in London. It is a Sunday morning, eleven o’clock. Harry doesn’t ask how he found the address.

Snape enters the flat, glances around with feigned disinterest. There are photos of his godchildren on the mantel, a Muggle telly, a wizarding chess set on the sofa table, but mostly there are books. There are so many books that Snape should feel totally at ease, but Harry knows that the opposite is true. That he has not imagined Harry Potter living in a library.

Snape faces Harry. Without leave, he begins to unfasten the buttons on his high collar. He pulls it aside and stands there while Harry stares at him.

The scars are worse than any he has seen. They are ropey on the edges, and thick and discolored everywhere else. Harry’s mouth falls open. He looks at Snape, an apology ready on his lips.

Snape shakes his head, holds up a hand.

“They are better,” he says in that altered voice. “They are much better.” He is all business now. He drops, without invitation, onto the loveseat and pushes a pile of books to the side as he spreads several pieces of parchment out onto the table. He moves the stack as if he is accustomed to moving piles of books whenever he sits at a table. “I have already tried substituting logspur membranes for the aloe extract, and have increased the pumice….”

Harry sits on the end of the couch, perpendicular to Snape. He leans over and looks at the parchment, points to something, asks a question. Snape answers. Harry grabs a pen – a Muggle ballpoint – and scribbles something. Snape grabs the pen out of his hand and reaches for a pair of pencils lying side by side on the table.

They are at it for an hour.

Before Snape leaves, he begins to button his collar.

Harry stops him.

“May I?” He nods at the scars. He doesn’t have to explain. Snape knows what Harry is asking, and why.

Snape drops his hands to his sides. Harry reaches out and feels Snape’s neck.

There is no electric shock, no spark of desire.

But there is…something.

Harry feels the skin, rough and pitted. His fingers graze over the Adam’s apple. Beneath them, he feels the pulse of Snape’s heart.

He drops his hand.

Snape has a heart.

/

By the time Harry’s twenty-ninth birthday comes, Severus’ scars are visible still, but the ridges are gone. The formula has been perfected, with Snape’s help, for Bill. He smiles for photographs again.

Harry and Severus are in love.

Harry is in love with Severus, and Severus is in love with Harry, but they do not acknowledge their feelings. Oddly, each thinks the other is off-limits. Too young, too old, too male. They remain partners of a different sense, heads buried in journals and ingredients and cauldrons.

Because they are working together on an article for Potions Quarterly, Severus spends every Sunday afternoon at Harry’s. He arrives on August 2nd but Harry does not answer the door. This has never happened before, so he lets himself in.

Harry is in bed, spiking fever, shivering. He is dehydrated. The room smells stale. It is too warm for Severus, too cold for Harry. Harry is barely lucid. His teeth are chattering.

It should not be the most natural thing in the world for Severus to care for him, but it is. Anti-nausea, fever-reducer, fluids. He changes sheets and pyjamas, presses a cold cloth to Harry’s head. Wakes him every two hours to force more fluids down him, to help him use the loo, to check his fever.

By late evening, when Harry’s fever has finally broken, when he is weak but clear-minded, he reaches for Severus’ robes as he turns to leave his bedside. No one could care for another like that unless…unless…

“Stay?” he asks.

Severus stays.

/

It is the New Year.

Severus is sitting at Harry’s new desk, reading glasses perched low on his nose. He is reviewing a contract and Harry is arguing with him.

“I had no idea! I’m an idiot! Really, Severus, you had no right!”

“You forget that I did not do this on purpose, Harry.”

“I know. It was…” He falters, staring at Severus’ dark eyes as they regard him from just above the lenses.

“Fortuitous?” suggests Severus.

“You might say that,” says Harry with a sigh.

“We can stop now. We know what’s causing it. I imagine it will stay exactly as it is.”

“I don’t know.” Harry walks over to the mirror beside the door and pushes his fringe away, staring at the barely-there scar.

“If it defines you so much, what were you six months ago that you are not today?”

Severus’ voice is matter-of-fact. He is not looking at Harry.

Harry stares in the mirror. In the reflection, Severus continues to read the contract, to jot notes on it, corrections.

Harry drops his fringe and turns.

He walks over to the desk, pushes the parchment and books out of the way, and slides between Severus’ knees, half sitting on the desk. He leans forward and down, placing warm, open-mouthed kisses over Severus’ neck, against the almost-not-there scars.

“Alone,” he answers. “Six months ago, I was alone.”

“You’ll hardly be alone in another week,” quips Severus. “You will have so much company, in fact…”

“I’m beginning to question my sanity in accepting this job.” Harry fastens his lips just below Severus’ ear and Severus shudders, pulls his chin up, and kisses him. His hands cup the sides of Harry’s head. His fingers work into his hair. They sigh into each other’s mouths. Severus pulls back, raises his hand, traces the faint outline of Harry’s scar with his thumb.

For four months now, Severus has made a nightly ritual of doing this, of tracing Harry’s scar with his thumb.

The same hand, the same thumb, that he uses to apply his scar cream every night when he gets into bed.

The lightning-shaped scar is almost gone now.

Harry can no longer speak to snakes – that power vanished with the Horcrux. He is not an Auror. He is an entrepreneur, a Potions expert, about to become a Professor. He is not married to Ginny Weasley, not living in a cottage in Godric’s Hollow with a son (James) and a daughter (Lily). He does not play professional Quidditch.

He is not naked and frozen in the bottom of a pond in the Forest of Dean. He is not lying dead at Narcissa Malfoy’s feet.

Severus will turn fifty in five days. He is still Headmaster. He is not in Azkaban. He is not exiled in France with the Malfoys. He is not lying dead in a pool of blood in the Shrieking Shack.

He had not expected to live fifty years, much less close out those first fifty with a companion, a lover.

Harry stands. Steps closer to Severus so that Severus’ head is pressed into his chest. Harry’s arms go around him. Severus inhales, works his own arms around Harry. “I’m glad you kicked me out after the Battle,” Harry says.

Severus turns his head so he can speak, but keeps it pressed against Harry. “I did not kick you out. I recommended that you leave. For your own good, I might add.”

Harry is ignoring him. “It made coming back all the better,” he says. “Now come on, let’s go tell Dumbledore that Lucius Malfoy’s been elected Minister of Magic.”

“You’ll give him a coronary. It was bad enough when you told him that the Ministry had eliminated Hufflepuff House.”

“He can’t have a coronary – he’s a painting,” protests Harry. He is pulling Severus by the hand toward the door. “Let’s just snog in front of him again. Gets him all hot and bothered.”

“You’ve spent far too much time with George Weasley,” grumbles Severus.

Harry laughs. “And not nearly enough time with you.”

Their voices recede down the corridor.

“No. I am far too old to slide down the banister.”

“This may be the last time you can do it before you turn fifty, Severus. The students are coming back tomorrow.”

A long pause. A laugh. The corridors of Hogwarts have not heard this laugh in a long, long while.

“Fine. Just this once.”

Fin