Severus felt someone cross the wards before he heard the knocking on the door. It had to be someone he knew, but couldn't think who would be here on Yule Eve.
Knowing his house elf Posy would answer the door, Severus did not move from his comfortable seat by the fire.
"Harry Potter to see you," Posy announced.
A wan and tired looking Harry hesitated in the doorway.
"I didn't mean to disturb you..." Harry said softly. "But..." He shrugged helplessly. "I had nowhere else to go. And I didn't want to be alone."
"You're here now," Severus replied brusquely, ignoring how sad that sounded. "Come sit." Severus looked at Posy. "Tea, please? And some sandwiches?"
"Yes, sir!" Posy beamed. She loved cooking and was always glad to help feed someone. But, for some reason Severus didn't understand, especially Harry.
As Harry stood in the doorway, Severus repeated, "Come and sit. You look awful."
A small, bitter laugh, and Harry moved toward the other comfortable chair neat the fire. He sighed as he sat gingerly on the edge of the chair.
"Some tea first, I think," Severus declared.
As Harry settled back in the chair and closed his eyes, Severus was reminded how young Harry was.
They had struck up something of a friendship that Severus didn't want to examine too closely. Harry -- who had actually growled at him the last time he had tried to call him "Potter" -- had helped nurse Severus back to health after that last battle. Harry had spent the last of his energy helping Severus those first weeks.
Then Harry had spent months campaigning to keep Severus out of Azkaban, fighting both the Wizengamot and the general public on Severus' behalf. There had been an Order of Merlin, Second Class and closely vetted interviews with both The Prophet and The Quibbler -- and a thankfully nothing to do with them but distracting scandal in the Ministry -- before Severus had been left alone.
Posy popped in with hot tea, sandwiches and biscuits, settling the dishes on a table between the two chairs.
"Anything else?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Severus said. "Thank you."
Posy had also come by way of Harry. Needing to leave a not-quite-well Severus on his own for extended periods, Harry had brought Posy with him one day and she had never left. Neither talked about it, but Severus strongly suspected she had been working for a family of Death Eaters who had been arrested, or died, and was in need of a new master.
"Have some tea and a sandwich," Severus commanded softly. He fixed himself a cuppa and took a biscuit.
Harry stirred, looking down at the tray in some surprise. "Thanks."
Severus watched in silence as Harry inhaled the first sandwich, and then more deliberately ate two more, washing them all down with tea.
"Better?" Severus asked as Harry finally sat back, looking better than he had when he first came in.
"Yes, thanks." Harry wiped his hands on a napkin and settled back with another cup of tea. "Posy makes great sandwiches."
"She always makes your favorites," Severus scowled.
That did make Harry smile. "Awww.... she loves me best."
As I do. Severus was startled at that sudden thought. He squashed it down.
"Why are you here and not with... anyone else?" Severus asked.
"It's not that I'm unwelcome at the Weasley's, but after everything, just thought I'd stay away." Harry talked to his mug of tea, not looking at Severus.
Severus knew that Harry had agonized over 'breaking up' with Ginny Weasley. He had spent what felt like an eternity pacing around Severus' lab, working up the courage to say the words.
"Sit. You're causing a draft and if you ruin this potion, I'm going to be annoyed." Severus had pointed to a stool in the corner of the lab.
Harry had sat on the chair, slumped in frustration.
"I don't know what to do," Harry moaned. Again.
"Take her aside and explain that you're both too young and, while you like her as a person, you'd like some time to grow up," Severus repeated. Again.
"But I'm twenty years old!" Harry protested. "My parents were married by this age! And they'd had me already!"
"You have never had a chance to be Harry," Severus patiently pointed out.
"I don't even know who Harry is!" Harry threw up his hands.
Severus kept quiet, hoping Harry would listen to himself, if he wouldn't listen to Severus.
"I don't know what I want to do," Harry said with a frown.
"Do you want to get married?" Severus asked in frustration.
"Eventually, I guess," Harry replied warily.
"Do you want to get married now?" Severus persisted.
"Merlin, no!" Harry answered immediately. Then heard himself. "I don't want to get married now." It was like a revelation.
Severus worked on the potion in silence as Harry mulled over that new fact.
"I'll be back!" Harry had said brightly as he left the lab.
A shaken and distraught Harry had returned after dinner. Severus had sat Harry in a chair and pressed a glass of firewhiskey into his hand and commanded, "Drink this."
Harry had huffed in surprise, but downed the drink in one go. He handed the glass back to Severus.
"It was awful," Harry reported. "Ginny was working at the twins' shop and she wouldn't come away from whatever she was doing to go with me, so we went into the back room to talk. When I tried to explain about not wanting to get married just now, she..." Harry looked at Severus with frightened eyes. "She was mental! She started shouting that we needed to get married soon, that she had told her friends, she had picked out everything, and she had even found us a house she wanted to buy."
Severus poured Harry another draught of firewhiskey, and handed it to him.
"She was screaming at me by the time she was done!" Harry downed the drink without paying attention to what he was doing. "At that point, she had chased me out of the back room, into the store... and it was packed. Everyone heard."
Severus poured more firewhiskey into Harry's glass.
"Then she started throwing things," Harry recounted. "She grabbed stuff off the shelf, screaming how I had led her on and had wasted her life." He downed the drink without thought.
"Luckily, Fred stepped in at that point and shoved her into the back room. George started assuring the customers that everything was okay, but I figured it would be best if I left." Harry had looked at the empty glass in his hand and held it out to Severus. Severus poured.
Severus kept pouring for Harry, enough to dull the pain but not letting him drink to the point he'd be ill. He had transformed a couch into a bed and left a hangover potion next to the bed.
The next morning, an embarrassed Harry had mumbled "Thank you" to Severus over breakfast.
And, as they both knew, the headline in The Prophet the next day was lurid. HARRY POTTER BREAKS UP WITH CHILDHOOD SWEETHEART.
Someone -- Rita Skeeter most likely -- had interviewed a tearful Ginny Weasley, giving Ginny a sympathetic ear for all of Harry's slights, both real and imagined.
That had been a month ago, and the furor had just started to settle down. But since Harry had refused to answer any questions, or release a statement of any kind, there were eager reporters still trailing after Harry's side of the story.
"Probably not a bad idea," Severus agreed mildly. "Arthur will try to ignore it all, Molly will probably side with her daughter, and Ron will eat everything in sight."
"The twins would be on my side," Harry offered hopefully.
"Because they want what's best for you, or best for them?" Severus asked without inflection.
"Huh. Hadn't thought of it that way," Harry muttered.
"Doesn't matter," Severus shrugged. "You're always welcome here."
Harry picked up another sandwich, but just nibbled on it.
"I've been thinking," Harry said.
"Don't hurt yourself," Severus shot back.
"Very funny!" Harry grinned. "But, well, it turns out that I've had a lot of free time lately and, well, I've come to a couple of decisions."
"Do tell," Severus replied.
"I'm going to go to Muggle University, for at least a while," Harry announced. "I don't know what I don't know, and most Wizards are pants at explaining Muggles to other Wizards."
"That is true," Severus agreed.
"And it should let me meet people who don't know who I am," Harry went on.
"That's rather a brilliant thought," Severus granted.
Harry nibbled at the sandwich and swallowed. "And I was thinking that maybe..." He paused, looking suddenly nervous. "MaybeI'mnotattractedtojustgirls," Harry said in a rush.
"You're going to have to slow down on that last part," Severus said.
Harry took a drink of his tea. "Umm... maybe I'm not attracted to just girls."
"Nothing wrong with that," Severus replied, forcing himself to be calm.
"While I may not be considered a catch, I've had my share of both male and female companionship," Severus elaborated.
"Ummm...." Harry stuttered. "You are too a catch."
"You're just being kind," Severus said gently. "I know exactly how I look, I am not a pleasant person and I can't stand stupidity -- which is far too common among too many people, especially in the Wizarding world. But that's a discussion for another day. University?"
Harry allowed him his distraction. He went on to explain what he'd already found out, and where he thought he'd start. Severus mostly watched, abstractly taking in the information, seeing a level of animation he had not seen in Harry in a long time.
"... and I figured you could help me with Chemistry, since it required for the degree," Harry went on.
"I know enough to know that Muggle Chemistry is nothing like Potions," Severus replied in self-defense.
"Well, I'll take any help I can get," Harry said.
"Are you staying?" Severus asked as it got late.
"Umm... may I? If you don't mind." Harry asked, slightly uncertain.
"I would not have asked if I minded," Severus replied. "Posy!"
"I have made up the guest bedroom for Master Harry," Posy announced. "And there's clean towels in the cabinet. Do you need anything else?"
"Not tonight, I don't think," Severus replied. "Thank you."
"Yule breakfast tomorrow!" Posy said cheerfully. "Be hungry!"
"I love your breakfasts!" Harry grinned. "I'll look forward to it."
Severus found himself looking forward to it, too.