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For Auld Lang Syne IV: Ce n'est qu'un au revoir

Chapter Text

Since the first New Year's Eve with Severus, the celebrations had become somewhat tainted with nostalgia for Harry.  He could usually manage to keep the pang of regret at bay well enough to enjoy himself, until the moment when Auld Lang Syne began to play, at which point, Harry would spare a moment to wish things had turned out differently.

Harry's mind wasn't on Severus as he removed his cloak to check it at the counter in the Blue Note club.  "You look amazing," Ginny told him, fluffing up the feathers of the angel wings strapped to his back by a criss-cross of white leather straps over his bare chest.  He was painted head to toe in gold that blended seamlessly with the golden strip of cloth that served to cover his arse and bits.  Golden boots stretched over his calves up to his knees and the entire look was topped off by a golden ring of a halo that showered him with sugary glitter every time he moved his head.

"Wow," the girl taking his cloak said, eyes widening as she took him in.  She herself looked to be disguised as some sort of slave girl from ancient Egypt.  "You two have got to enter the costume competition.  You'll definitely win!"

Ginny grinned at the girl from under her tiger mask. She was insanely pleased by her creations.  Her own cat suit was a hybrid of cleverly done glamours and Muggle make-up.  When Mrs Weasley had taught her daughter to sew magically, Harry didn’t think she'd had this in mind.  Ginny's suit was made up of latex and fine mesh in which tiger stripes had been carefully added so that it looked part of her skin. Her hair was done up in a plait that circled her head.  Covering her eyes was a furry mask that stretched up to give her cat ears.

The costume gave Harry a confidence that he lacked when using the more mundane sort of glamours.  It made him feel somehow less dishonest.  He was himself, only decorated to the point of being unrecognisable.  He was still not quite as comfortable as Ginny in these situations, but he'd grown gradually more at ease since they'd begun their monthly "date nights," the purpose of which was to bring them closer together through shared experiences. 

It was marriage therapy.  Both Harry and Ginny had come to terms with the evolution of Harry's desires.  They knew there was little they could do to change things, but both had agreed that for the sake of the children, the marriage was worth saving.  As physical intimacy had grown complicated since they began experimenting with Polyjuice, Harry had offered Ginny the freedom to find satisfaction elsewhere.  It wasn't easy for her to have a husband who could no longer find her desirable.  She argued that finding satisfaction elsewhere would do nothing to help them grow close again.  There needed to be intimacy if they were going to stay together until the children were grown.


They finally settled on this compromise solution.  It fed Ginny's waning self-esteem and helped Harry to come to terms with what he had become.  It wasn't conventional marriage therapy, but it was helping in some small way.  Harry was quite happy to leave the flirting to Ginny, but Ginny told him that if she had to become a tart, so must he.  And besides, Harry would need the practice for the future.


They were stopped at the door by another Egyptian slave who took their names for the costume competition – Azriel and Kitty.  The slave grinned at them, but didn't insist on honesty as his eyes locked on Harry and slid down the length of his gold-painted body.  It was an attention that, under normal circumstances, would make Harry squirm. Tonight, however, he was quite pleased to allow himself to be ogled.  The costume demanded a brazen attitude. and Harry happily donned enough attitude to make up for the lack of actual clothes.

The thumping sound of the music was deafening.  The club was packed with creatures grotesque and beautiful, writhing together on the dance floor.  It was their first time at this particular club – the last gay club in London that they'd not patronized.  The promise of a fancy dress evening had been too tempting for either of them to resist. 

The Egyptian theme was carried through to the bar staff, the men dressed in white skirts with a golden braid around the waist.  The women wore the same, with the addition of a braided bikini top to cover their breasts.  Their eyes were lined in dark kohl.  Some wore braided circlets around their heads.  All of them looked gorgeous.

Harry was served almost immediately by a blond male slave, who complimented him on his wings.  Harry smiled and ordered himself a rum and Coke and a gin and tonic for his "friend".  The cash was pulled out of a small pocket in Ginny's costume as Harry himself had nowhere to store much of anything, apart from his wand, which was hidden in his boot, concealed with a charm.  By the time he turned to offer Ginny her drink, she was already engaged in conversation with a woman who was dressed in khaki, with a whip coiled at her belt.

"Look, Azriel," Ginny called.  "I've met a lion tamer," she grinned.

Harry laughed.  "It'll take more than a whip to tame her," he told the woman who only had eyes for Ginny.

Ginny offered a wicked grin and introduced herself to the woman as Kitty.  The woman called herself Julie.  She was thin with sharp, angular features.  Her safari-style hat was cocked sideways over short dark hair.  There was a slightly hesitant way about her that Harry recognised as a woman trying to decide if he and Ginny were together.  Ginny answered the unspoken question by stepping away from Harry and closer to the woman.  Harry turned his attention to the dance floor.

There were cages raised on platforms in which males dancers moved to the music.  They clearly belonged to the club as they were dressed according to the same theme.  The men wore loin cloths, their arms encased in gold and turquoise bands.  Around their necks sat collars of the same material.  Harry averted his eyes lest the show become a little too stimulating.  The golden hot pants he wore would do nothing to hide his thoughts tonight.

"Going to dance," Ginny shouted at him.  She knew better than to try and convince him to come along before the second drink was finished.  Harry did not have a natural rhythm.  He had to wait until his self-awareness was sufficiently drowned before he could properly let loose.  Luckily, the night's programme included some sort of a show and so he'd not look too awkward standing in the periphery.

Before he had time to suck down his first drink, the barman from before had offered him another, complements of a bloke dressed as a devil.  The bloke made his way over when Harry raised the glass in thanks.  He might not have accepted, but Ginny had taken the cash with her to the dance floor and Harry fervently needed the courage that the rum would provide.

"Cheers," Harry shouted at the man.

"You look amazing," the man told him.  His smile looked white next to the dark red of his skin.  From out of the rivulets of his short blond hair, red horns peeked up, attached to a plastic black headband.

"Thanks," Harry said.  "So do you," he said awkwardly. 

The man stretched out a hand to run over the curve of Harry's wings.  "God, they look real," the man said.  "Can you spread them?"

"I could.  But there's no room," Harry answered.

"I'm Ben," the man offered, extending a hand from which black claws jutted dangerously out.


"That's not your real name," he said with a smile.

Harry shrugged.  "It is tonight."

"Sure it isn't Lucifer?"

"Halo's still intact," Harry laughed, touching the golden ring demonstratively and blinking at the shower of glitter that fell down around him.  The way the man's painted eyebrows shot up made Harry rethink his statement.  He could feel the heat rise to his face at the possible implications.  He gave a desperate little laugh and lowered his eyes, feeling suddenly foolish.

"Dressed like that, you might change your name before the night is through," the man said suggestively.  He slid his fingers along the straps of the harness and then over the golden skin underneath.  He inspected his fingers for gold paint.

"Thanks for the drink," Harry said and then sent the other man away with a wandless suggestion that he might need the loo.  He drank deeply from the glass and moved away from the bar, eyes roaming the dance floor to seek reassurance in the form of Ginny.  He could just see her, arms raised, eyes closed as she moved gracefully to the beat. 

The longer he stood there, the more evident it became that he was not going to escape attention tonight.  It was also abundantly clear that his state of dress made people, men and women alike, feel compelled to touch him.  He thought he understood how it felt to be a statue.  A work of art.  Their fingers ran over the frozen gold spikes that made up his hair, along the feathery arch of his wings.  One man was brazen enough to try and test the rounded lump in Harry's shorts.  Harry grabbed his hand with a protesting "Oi," and a laugh. 

He'd never liked being the centre of attention and while tonight, dressed as he was, his tolerance for it was higher, he was nevertheless insanely grateful when Ginny came up to rescue him from the gathering crowd of admirers.  He even followed willingly into the crowd of the dance floor.  The group of women Ginny had managed to surround herself with closed around him.

 If he closed his eyes, he could just about ignore the impending fit of claustrophobia that threatened to take him.  He was feeling a bit more relaxed from the two drinks he'd consumed in a small space of time and began to feel giddy from the combination of body heat and lack of clean air.  It was either the music or the bodies surrounding him that moved him.  He found a rhythm, no longer caring what that rhythm looked like from an outsider, and opened his eyes to see Ginny smiling at him.


He grinned back.  He loved her and was struck suddenly with a rush of gratitude and affection for the woman who was still with him, in spite of everything.  The lion tamer from before moved behind Ginny and gave Harry a polite smile before putting her hands on his wife's waist.  Ginny offered him a cheeky grin and then turned.  Harry laughed to himself and continued to allow his body to move in whatever way it was compelled to do.


The music boomed on for an eternity, seamlessly changing from one song to another.  Harry couldn't tell where one began and the other ended, but was disinclined to care.  He was surrounded by bodies and stopped opening his eyes whenever something brushed up against him.  He stopped caring when he felt a hand on his bare skin, or fingers ruffling the feathers of his wings.  It was all part of the sensory overload.  The lights were dizzying, the sounds no longer seemed to come just from the large speakers hung from the ceiling.  He became the sound.  The sound became him.


His eyes slid lazily open when he felt a hand on his shoulder and the close press of a warm body in front of him.  He expected to see Ginny, and was shocked to see an undisguised blond man in front of him.  Harry's body ground awkwardly to a halt, his eyes widening.  The man gave a slow grin.  "You look lonely," he said.




The man stepped forward, bringing his leg between Harry's.  A hand slid around his waist, under his wings to lie at the base of his spine.  The man's hips began gyrating slowly, guiding Harry's to circle along.  Harry looked around to find Ginny, who danced in front of him, her eyes closed.  "Fuck it," he thought and gave a small, hysterical laugh before closing his eyes again, allowing himself to be moved by more practised hands.  The rhythm set seemed simultaneously discordant and perfectly in time with the music, as though the man's hips were in tune with an undertone that the ears did not pick up.


He was thankfully too self-conscious to be aroused.  He had no idea what he was meant to do with his hands, so he settled on placing one on the man's shoulder and letting the other hang behind him.  The closeness was nice, the thigh pressing against his nether-regions grew nicer as the song drew on.  Harry drew his lip between his teeth and tilted his head back to try and draw in something resembling oxygen. 


"I'm meant to bring you back stage," the man said into his ear.  "But I couldn't help myself."

Harry's eyes blinked open.  "Back stage?" he said, confused.


"Costume competition," the man said, stepping back.  There was nothing subtle about the way his eyes dropped to Harry's groin.  Harry's hand flew to cover a rising problem.

"I was doing so well," he chastised the man.

"Don't cover it.  It can only help your chances," the man said flirtatiously.  He took Harry's other hand and then tapped Ginny on the shoulder, shouting into her ear.  Ginny grinned and met Harry's eyes before falling into step beside him as they were led behind black curtains and upstairs to a large raised platform.  There were four others – two women and two men, speaking in a group.

Suddenly, a very tall woman in a very tall wig slid up to talk to them.  It became very clear that it wasn't a woman at all when she presented herself as Sheeza Mann, the emcee of the evening.  The drill was clear.  They would be called out one by one, first the girls and then the boys, where they were expected to flaunt their costumes for the audience.  The loudest applause would get the prize – a year's worth of free entry for the girls and a year's membership to the Blue Room for the boys.

Harry wasn't sure what the Blue Room was, but he kept his ignorance to himself.  Ms Mann left them to go and speak to the sound engineer. 

"God, you're totally going to win," one of the girls, who was clad in a pattern of green, blue and white feathers, said to Ginny, raising her hand to stroke Ginny's furry mask.  "How is that even sticking to your face?"

"Magic," Ginny said with a cat-like grin.  "You look lovely," she complimented the girl. 

The other two men clearly knew each other and chatted animatedly to Harry's right.  Harry got the impression that while the girls had been chosen for their prettiness, the bird (Rebecca) and the tiger huddling alongside a sparkling fairy (Ailsa), the men had been chosen for the amount of skin on display.  A man dressed as a particularly camp cowboy, wore chaps that displayed a perfectly formed arse.  The other looked to be some sort of superhero, clad head-to-toe in a tight-fitting suit that was ripped open in a V-shape, which dipped to just above the boy's pubic hair.  A giant Q was painted in pink across his bared chest.  They introduced themselves as Jory and Ryan.  Harry and Ginny kept to their pseudonyms.

"Do they open?" Jory, the cowboy, asked Harry.

Harry nodded and turned around, sliding his finger over the trigger mechanism on his chest to let the wings unfold.  He turned back around and spread his arms in show. 

"Bloody hell, that's ace," Ryan, the superhero, breathed. 

"I can't take credit for it," Harry said, pulling the wings back in.  He felt the tips come together to cover his arse.  "She's the genius," he said, nodding to Ginny, who gave a proud grin.

"Blimey.  Are you a professional?"

Ginny shook her head.  "No.  Just a perfectionist," she said.

"It must have taken ages," Rebecca said. 

"All day," Ginny lied.  In truth, her own costume took longer to prepare.  Harry's was finished in a few flicks of her wand.

The show had started.  The six of them peeked from the wings of the stage, watching Ms Mann's opening number and the wicked banter that followed as the queen picked on the crowd.  Harry stood at the back of the group, watching the show and behind the scenes with equal interest.  He caught the eye of a man in a Pharaoh's costume.  The man gave him a scrutinising look before entering through the part in the curtains to join the hostess on stage.

The crowd greeted him with applause and hollers.  He was clearly known.  "Who's that?" Harry asked Ryan.

"Haytham," Ryan answered.  "The club owner."  The boy looked back.  "Is this your first time here?"

Harry nodded.  "Yeah," he admitted.

 The man greeted the crowd with a deep, voice that managed to be quiet even when electrically projected.  "On behalf of the Blue Note, I thank you all for joining us this New Year's celebration.  As we are on a tight schedule this evening, I will keep this uncharacteristically brief," the man said.  The crowd laughed.  "All of you in costume will enjoy a drink on the house.  For the rest of you, try harder next year.   Without further ado, I will return the mic to the capable hands of Miss Mann and wish you all a Happy New Year."

"Are you ready to see our little objects of desire?" Sheeza boomed and the crowd responded enthusiastically.

Harry's stomach swam with nervousness.  His horror at being stared at chose now to rear its ugly head.  He suddenly felt cold and shivery, exposed as he was to the shadowy world behind the scenes.  As though sensing his discomfort, Ginny turned and laid a warm hand on his shoulder.  She leant in.  "Deep breaths, Potter.  You know how to work a crowd."

Harry gave a little groan of dissent and wrapped his arms over his front as the little bird Rebecca took flight.  "You don't need to dance.  Just pose and flex.  Open your wings.  The costume speaks for itself," Ginny whispered.

The fairy was called next, and then Harry's lifeline prowled onto the stage.  He admired Ginny's confidence.  Judging by the reaction to the crowd, he wasn't the only one.  When the judgement came, it wasn't surprising to find Ginny took the prize.

Harry was the last to be called.  He couldn't say if that was a blessing – at least he didn't have to stand up on stage in front of everyone so long – or a curse, as his nervousness increased exponentially the longer he stood shivering in the sidelines.  But as he usually did, when it came down to it, he managed to perform.  He posed dutifully in front of the crowd, whose cheers and catcalls melded into one rushing sound.  His eyes were full of lights.  He turned for his coup de grace and flexed his wings, which spread spectacularly.  He turned and spread his arms in a divine pose.

"I think I just got religion," Sheeza commented, fanning herself.  "I'd risk heavy metal poisoning to lick him head to toe," she said, as Harry took his place in the line of men, at the end of which the Pharaoh stood regally.

Third prize was awarded to the superhero, who received a bottle of champagne and a kiss on the cheek from the Pharaoh.  Second prize, a private party for six, was awarded to the cheeky cowboy.  Harry's victory was rewarded with thunderous approval.  As he moved toward the Pharaoh to receive the golden envelope the man's black-lined eyes narrowed.  "I don't know you," he said into Harry's ear.

Harry grinned at him.  "I don't know you either," Harry pointed out.

"Welcome to my club, Azriel," the man said in a voice that could melt gold.

Harry's blush was hidden under the glamour, but he could feel it warm him all over.  "I don't even know what the Blue Room is," he leant in to confess.

The man threw his head back and laughed.  "I'll find you after midnight and give you a tour," he promised.

Harry joined Ginny with her group of admirers.  "You prance with the best of them," Ginny shouted at him.  "I think the Pharaoh approved."

Harry certainly approved of the Pharaoh.  Haytham, he remembered, but the man was certainly commanding enough to be worshipped as divine.  "I think it best if I stay clear of him," Harry shouted back at her.

"Good luck with that," Ginny teased, looking meaningfully behind Harry.  Harry turned to see the man watching him with an indescribable smile.

"Let's get a drink," Harry said, barely managing the breath required to be heard.

The two made their way slowly through the crowd, hindered by countless well-wishers and admirers as they arduously pushed through the masses.  Harry eventually stopped being startled by the random groping and brushes of brazen hands, and Ginny took it all in stride, allowing herself to be stroked and petted as though the crowd existed to do just that. 

The promise of free drinks made the bar busy with costumed patrons, but gradually Harry and Ginny got through, squeezing between a lion and a clown to order their drinks.  They were greeted by a red-headed slave boy who grinned at them as Harry caught his eye.  "Our champions," he shouted above the noise.  He reached over to press a stamp into Ginny's cleavage, leaving behind a blue musical note and hopped up to press the stamp against Harry's belly.  "How may I serve you?" he asked with feigned submission.

Ginny ordered for the both of them as Harry turned to watch as the show began the countdown to midnight.  He could just hear their server ask Ginny if she and Harry were together.  Harry turned to see the real question in the man's eyes.  "We came together," Ginny laughed.  "Who knows what the night will bring," she shot a teasing smile at Harry, who rolled his eyes, but grinned. 

The question, as it were, remained unanswered as Harry and Ginny walked off with their drinks to find a space in the crowd.  "I feel like an imposter," Harry shouted to his wife.

"Don't over-think it," she shouted back.  "You're a card-carrying member now," she said with a wink.

"Do you even know what it is?"

She shrugged.  "Some private club for men.  Probably some sex thing," she said to wind him up. 

"The Pharaoh offered to give me a tour."

"Lucky you," she said, smirking.  "I won't wait up."

"I wouldn't-"

"You would.  You should.  And I might as well."  She reached down to squeeze his hand.  "The lion tamer is cute, don't you think?"

Harry snorted.  "She's not my type," he said.

"She reminds me of you when you were younger.  All skin and bones and sharp angles.  Good kisser," she said, aiming the last phrase into his ear.

Harry's eyes widened.  He laughed and shook his head.  "So, you're trying to get rid of me?"

"A girl's got needs, Mr Potter," Ginny said.  "And so have you.  I look forward to the memory," she said with a meaningful glare. 

Harry wasn't sure there'd be anything to show.  The idea of sleeping with someone that wasn't his wife or Severus was daunting.  And he was likely reading too much into the owner's offer to show him around.  As he was a new member, he supposed that it was customary to give a tour.  His eyes roamed the crowd to catch a sight of the man, but he couldn't spot him.

Ginny took him by the arm and moved purposefully through the crowd until she came back to the group of lesbians, who welcomed her back with far too much petting, Harry thought.  The one minute countdown had begun, and Ms Mann was calling to the crowd to latch hold of the person next to them in preparation for the New Year's kiss.  She herself had grabbed one of the dancers in her show.  Harry recognised him as the blond boy he'd danced with earlier.  Ginny had clearly chosen sides, abandoning him to the whims of the crowd.  Harry stepped back to the periphery, lest he be attacked by some random person who wanted to grab a hold. 

His mind reached for Severus, for the memory of their first kiss.  He recalled the way his heart pounded as he crept behind the other man.  How he'd watched him for the whole last minute, encouraged by the man's clear disappointment in finding himself alone.

An eternity had passed since then.  He had been so nervous, so bloody excited in the foreign body of some sort of sex god.  And the kiss – hesitant, careful, the barest taste of scotch and arousal.  Harry took a breath and shook his head to dislodge the thought.  He wondered vaguely if Severus would think of him when midnight came to America – or would his thoughts be dedicated to the one who now held him?

A melancholy thought for a festive night.  The crowd counted down from ten in unison and Harry's voice joined the chorus, safe behind a wall of women.  Three, two, one and Happy New Year.  The music was cued to play the predictable song.  Harry tried to ignore the small ache in his heart at the memories of singing it with Severus.  He watched, mildly amused, as his wife was bent backward and snogged.  Before him, the crowd came together, alternately singing and kissing in celebration of the end of the year.

And auld lang syne. 

Ginny came up for air, and turned to him to kiss him chastely on the cheek.  "Coward," she said, and then kissed him again.

"Happy New Year," he said, embracing her.

"Happy New Year," she said back.  "Don't look now," she pulled away with a wry smile.  Harry turned to find the Pharaoh behind him.  Ginny offered a helpful little push and Harry stumbled forward.  "Sorry," he said, just managing to not fall into the man.

"It's bad luck not to be kissed at midnight," Haytham said with a smirk.

"It's worse luck to be at the mercy of a crowd dressed like this," Harry answered wryly.

The man reached forward and tilted Harry's chin up with a finger.  "May I?"

Harry held his breath and lowered his eyes.  The man bypassed his mouth to press a kiss at his cheek.  "Are you ready for your tour, Azriel?" he asked.  Harry wasn't sure if he heard the words or felt them shiver along with the disappointment down his spine, ruffling the feathers at his back.

He nodded, unable to find words.  He turned to see Ginny watching.  "I'll be back," he told her. 

She grabbed hold of him and shouted in his ear.  "If I don't see you, we'll meet tomorrow at 10 to go to the Burrow."

"I'll be back," he insisted.  She shrugged in response, and he accepted the bejewelled arm that was offered him.  The crowds seemed to magically part for the man and so they had no problem crossing the club to where a black door stood, framed in fluorescent pink.  The word "Lounge" was printed in block letters.  Haytham gently guided Harry through and followed him up a flight of stairs. The door closed behind them, blocking out the thudding sound of music and the raucous celebration of the crowd.

At the top of the stairs was a lounge area, coloured in deep red with white, faux leather sofas and chairs dotted about.  A soft melody played in the background, providing a relatively relaxed atmosphere compared to the club downstairs.  A male couple was taking advantage of the quiet and snogged in the corner.

"It's your first time here," Haytham said, disturbing the quiet of the room and the couple who separated just long enough to smile at the owner and glance at Harry.

It wasn't a question, but Harry nodded anyway.  "I like it.  It's nice," he said, feeling awkward.  He looked around and noted that the wall behind him was made up of windows that looked down onto the club.

"There are three lounges, accessible to anyone who prefers a quieter alternative to the club," the man told him, leading him away from the first lounge and down a corridor.  Harry looked down onto the club below.

"We're a popular club," Haytham told him.  "But discriminating.  We have to make sure that we have the right mix of people in here.  Too many ... tourists ... spoil the mood."

Harry blinked and looked at the man.  "Tourists?"

The man stopped and smiled.  "Normally, heterosexual couples coming to spice up their sex lives," he said. 

"Ah," Harry said.  Suddenly, the reason for the man's attention became clear.  "And you think I'm a tourist."

Haytham grinned.  "It would be rather embarrassing to have awarded a straight man membership to an exclusively gay club," he admitted.  "If it is the case, the club might offer you an alternative award."

"Do I look straight?" Harry challenged.  It was ridiculous, really.  He'd been mistaken for a gay man more times than he could say over the past few years, and then, when he finally joined the gay scene, he was accused of not fitting in.

"You have that lost look about you," Haytham said, taking his arm and leading him further to a yellow room with the same white sofas.  This room was busier than the first.  The various couples were slightly more concentrated on their individual objectives.

"I've never been very good in clubs.  I don't dance," Harry said.  "Well, I shouldn't dance," he said with a wry smile.

Haytham laughed.  "I saw you dancing.  And I saw you dancing with Justin.  It appears all you lack is the right partner."  His eyes glittered in amusement as he continued onward, turning a corner to reach a green room at the end.  There were a fair amount of female couples in this one.

"What's your name?" Haytham asked as he led Harry onward, turning another corner and heading toward a bright blue door.

Harry hesitated and then decided he had little to lose.  "Harry," he offered. 

"Harry," the man echoed, stopping in front of the door and leaning back against the glass.  It gave Harry a slight feeling of vertigo to see him hovering like that over the club below.  "I don't like to put you on the spot, but if you're to go through that door, I'm afraid I must insist on asking you if you think you belong in there."

Harry laughed.  "How do I know if I belong in there, if I've never seen it?" he said with an amused grin.

"You're being cute," the man said.

"I'm not straight," Harry said, relenting.  "I still don't know I belong here, but if cock appreciation is the only pre-requisite, then I suppose I qualify."

"Are you bi?"

"Is that against your rules?"

Haytham laughed and pushed away from the window.  "No.  I'm just curious," he said, reaching out to press his finger to a panel to the side of the door.  A faint beep could be heard just before the door clicked open.  "Welcome to the Blue Room, Harry."

Harry was too irritated now to even want to go inside.  He didn't want to be part of the club, after all.  This whole thing had been Ginny's idea.  He'd come along because it was supposed to be fun, and he quite liked dressing up.  It was interesting to see how the real gay men lived, even if he didn't necessarily count himself among them.  He was gay.  It was an incontrovertible fact that he could scarcely ignore anymore.  But the whole scene was foreign to him.

If he were honest, he was also vaguely disgusted with himself for having mistaken suspicion for flirtation.  And disappointed to have been so wrong.  He went up three steps and found himself in a room cast in blue light, at the centre of which was a round bar with a pillar of booze up the centre and glasses suspended from a shelf all around.  The room was largely empty from what Harry could see.  A couple of men sat at a table talking quietly.  One looked up as they entered, eyes going first to appraise Harry and then turning to Haytham.  It was an older gentleman with silvery hair that shone under the blue lamps.  He waved at Haytham, who nodded back.

Beyond the bar was a separate area, comprising a series semi-circular, high-backed booths that faced away from each other, as though designed with privacy in mind.  Beyond that, three long passageways led to obscurity.  Harry looked over.  "I came out for this?" he said with a small smile that didn't reach his eyes.

The man gave him a look and then laughed.  "Don't be cheeky," he said and pushed Harry toward the bar where a dark-haired, half-naked slave stood attentively.

"Matthew, our newest addition, Azriel," Haytham said presenting Harry in all his golden glory.

"Wow.  That's quite a costume," Matthew said.  "I caught a glimpse of you from the windows, but it's more impressive up close."

"Thanks," Harry said. 

"How may I serve you?"

Harry laughed and glanced at the Pharaoh.  "I like the script," he said.  "But I haven't got any money on me," he said.  "Nowhere to stick it," he said sheepishly.  "I was only on a tour."

"Membership includes an open bar," Haytham said, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder, making his skin go tense.

"Nice.  Almost worth the inquisition," Harry teased.  He grinned at the sight of the narrowed gaze.  "Bacardi and Coke, please," he amended.

"Can I see the wings?" Matthew asked.  Harry stepped away and ran his finger over the front of the harness to trigger the wings to unfold.  He turned around.

"The view is better like this," Haytham commented.  The barman laughed.  "It really is fascinating.  How do they work?"

Harry turned to offer a cryptic smile.  "Magic," he said, quite honestly.  He laughed at the look he received.  "I couldn't tell you.  You'll have to ask my friend."

"Kitty," Haytham offered.

"Her," Harry nodded.  He folded the wings back up and took a drink from his glass.  "It's quiet here," he said.

"It'll pick up," Matthew assured him.  "Around one or so.  They'll come back up, drunker and merrier."

Harry nodded toward the corridors in the back.  "What's down there?" he asked.

Matthew smirked, and Haytham smiled.  "Want to see?"

"Do I?"  His eyes went from one man to the other.  Haytham took his hand and led him toward the back.  As they passed the booths, Harry could make out the tops of heads in at least two.

Haytham pointed to the corridor at the far left.  "That one leads to private party rooms that can be rented out by members.  Information will be in the packet I gave to you.  This one," he said, pointing to the dark corridor in front of them, "leads to my office."  He tugged Harry toward the corridor stretching out to the right.  It was lined with what looked to be changing rooms, but surely weren't.  These rooms were lit with red lights.  They held a mirror and a bench, with a shelf in the corner containing a dispenser, a basket of condoms and a box of tissue.

Further down, a curtain was drawn and Harry could make out the sound of breathing and the occasional low moan, as though to illustrate what these booths were used for.

"I hope you're not the blushing type, Harry," Haytham's voice whispered in his ear.

"I am," Harry admitted.  "But I'm not easily shocked," he said with a smile.  He entered the room to the right.  He pressed the dispenser curiously.  A clear drop of fluid came out that was slick between his fingers.  He turned and grinned at the man watching him.  "A bit seedy," he said quietly so as not to disturb the two men two stalls down.

Haytham shrugged.  "One meets the demand of his clientele," he said.

"Do you spend a lot of time here?"

"At the private club, yes.  During the weekdays, mostly.  I don't regularly make use of the facilities," he said carefully.  His eyes watched Harry's fingers glide the lubricant between them.  "I should apologise for the inquisition."

Harry wiped his slick fingers over his belly.  "You don't need to apologise," Harry said.  "I suppose I stand out here," he said with a sheepish grin.  His ears perked as the breathing came more raggedly, the appreciative moans giving over to demanding grunts.  The sounds made Harry shiver reflexively.  He bit his bottom lip and tried to decide if he wanted to stay and listen to them finish, or go and avoid the resulting indecency of getting hard in these pants.

"You stand out," Haytham agreed, "But that's not a bad thing.  I've been in this scene for twenty years.  There are few faces I've not seen before," he said, leaning against the partition.  Harry's eyes went to the privacy curtain and then slid down the expanse of nicely toned torso.  Down a trail of hair that disappeared into a linen skirt. 

"I'm new to it," Harry answered, raising his eyes.  "I spent many years trying not to be gay," he confessed. 

A perfectly formed black eyebrow rose.  "But you've been with men," Haytham said.

Harry nodded.  He'd been with a number of men, all but one of whom was his wife.  "One," he grinned, reasoning that a woman with a cock was still a woman. 

"My word.  You nearly are an angel," the man said, clearly surprised.

Harry laughed quietly and listened as one of the men began his ascent calling out rhythmically in high whines.  Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  The whining was choked off with the finish and was followed by the slapping sound of the other driving himself home.

Harry swallowed and blinked open his eyes, crossing his hands over his front.  "Is it rude?" he whispered in question.  "I'm not sure what the etiquette is here.  I'm used to different sorts of clubs."

Haytham smirked at him.  "I don't suppose you're the first person to listen.  What sort of clubs?   Straight clubs?"

"Specialty clubs," Harry clarified.

"Whips and latex, that sort of thing."

Harry nodded.  "I told you I'm not easily shocked."

"Would you like some privacy?"

Harry shook his head.  "I'm all right," he said, moving to leave the cubicle and being blocked by six feet worth of Egyptian god. 

"Would you like company?" the man asked.

"You going to send me a slave?" Harry asked, tilting his head up with a cheeky smirk.

"I don't run a brothel," the man said.  "But if one of them interests you, I'm sure you wouldn't have to try hard to convince them to go home with you," he grinned.  "Sadly, you would have to wait until after their shift is over." 

"It's a busy night," Harry agreed. 

"Or we could continue the tour.  I could show you my office," the man said.

"Red lights don't do it for you?"

"I try and maintain a professional distance," Haytham said.  "And you never know who's listening in," he added with a playful poke to Harry's chest.

Harry laughed and tilted his head.  "I don't generally shag people I don't know," Harry confessed.

"I'll keep that in mind," the man said with a laugh and pulled Harry out of the cubicle, pushing him toward the bar, to where their drinks sat.  A few more people had gathered at the tables to continue on the party from downstairs. 

Harry drank his drink and ignored Matthew's grin.  Haytham took up his own drink and promised to return in a moment, leaving Harry at the bar with Matthew.  "What do you think?"

Harry laughed.  "It's interesting," he said.  "I'm not sure it's my thing."

"The weekends and party nights are always a bit chaotic.  During the week it's quieter, more of a proper gentlemen's club.  It's a different crowd entirely.  The back doesn't get used as often," he said.  "It gets used, but not often," he laughed.

"I hope you don't have to clean it up," Harry said.

"God no," the man answered.  "Someone else has that happy job.  Generally, though, the members are pretty respectful.  It's the bogs downstairs that get disgusting," he said.

Harry wrinkled his nose at the thought. 

"For a moment, I thought you'd managed to make Haytham break his cardinal rule," Matthew said, holding a glass to the light and then wiping off the spots.

"What rule is that?"

"No mixing business with pleasure," Matthew said nodding toward the back.

"Ah," Harry said with a grin and a blush that wasn't visible here.  "We were just talking."

The man smiled at him and then went over to serve a man dressed as a nun.  Haytham was over at a table chatting with guests.  His eyes met Harry's and glittered.  Harry wanted him.  From the moment he saw him, he'd wanted him.  Whether or not he could act on it was another thing entirely.  The man had a way of making him forget how to breathe that Harry always associated with Severus. 

Harry drained his glass and thought about ordering another.  It would make things easier if he could drown the nerves and concentrate entirely on the desire.  But he didn't want to be rubbish, either, and so he needed to maintain a certain measure of control.

"The whole place is staring at you," Matthew said helpfully.  "That really is a brilliant costume.  Coupled with the fact that you're a fresh face, I'd say your chances are pretty good.  You have your pick."

Harry laughed.  "That's kind.  But eventually the make-up comes off," he said.

"I don't think it's the make-up, love," the man said with a wink.  "Although the wings help.  Even I'm entertaining fantasies of buggering angels, and I'm a bottom."

Harry laughed and covered his face with his hands, sending a shower of glitter down around him.

"We really must rethink the lighting here," Haytham's voice said behind him.  "I have a feeling this one blushes quite prettily," he said to Matthew.

Harry rolled his eyes.  "The gold would hide it," he said. 

"But you won't be gold forever," Matthew pointed out.

"I'm calling it a night," Haytham told the barman.  "Keep an eye on that lot," he said nodding to the crowd of drunk party-goers. 

"Going home?" Matthew asked.

Haytham nodded.  "Shall I deliver you to your friend?" he asked. 

Harry gave the man an uncertain look.  "I think I can manage on my own," he said, pushing away from the bar.  "It was good to meet you, Matthew,"

"You can stay," Matthew told him.  "I'll protect you," he promised.

Harry smiled and shook his head.  "It's past my bed time," he said. He glanced again at Haytham, unable to keep from feeling somewhat gutted.  It was for the best, anyway. 

"See you," Harry lied.  He had no intention of coming back.  The night's adventure ended here – rather anticlimactically.  Tourist, Haytham had said.  And Harry supposed he had it in one.

He made his way out the door, conscious that the other man was following him.  As he went to turn back the way they'd come, Haytham reached out to stop him.  "Come home with me," he said.

Harry blinked, his spirits lifting suddenly and the nervousness returning in force.  He opened his mouth to speak, but his mind had gone mercilessly blank.

"I don't invite anyone to my home.  I should be very put out if you refuse," the man told him. 

Harry laughed and lowered his eyes.  "Why are you inviting me?" he asked with a smirk.

"How else will you get to know me?" Haytham answered.  "Come on."

Harry let himself be tugged in the opposite direction from where they came. They stopped at a black door further down.  He pulled out a card and slid it into a slot, before leading them out to a stairwell with a lift.  Haytham punched in numbers in the keypad and waited.

"My coat is downstairs," Harry remembered.

"I have the keys," Haytham told him.  "We'll get it later.  We're only going upstairs."

"You live here?"

Haytham nodded.  "It's practical."

The lift doors opened and the man put inserted a key and turned.  Harry went to lean against the wall, and then promptly straightened when his wings got in the way.  Haytham turned to look down at him in the relatively normal light of the lift.  His fingers stroked over the hard clumps of gold that made up Harry's hair and down over the gold of his skin. 

"She did a remarkable job," Haytham said.  "You look to be made of gold."

Harry smiled.  "She's very talented."

"What does she do?"

"She's a reporter," he said. 

"I think she's missed her calling," Haytham noted.  "We do fancy dress parties once a quarter or so.  I could use her."

"I'll let her know," Harry said evasively.  "Although your costume is pretty impressive as it is," he said, running his fingers over the gold cuffs adorning the man's forearm.

The lift stopped and the doors opened to reveal a single door with abstract metal statues on either side.  Haytham opened the door and stepped through to turn on the lights.  The flat was enormous, and looked even more so due to its minimalist stylings and large windows stretching the length of two sides, looking out over the roofs of London.

"Nice," Harry said, stepping inside.

Haytham stopped just inside the door to kick off his sandals.  He turned to Harry and sank down to his knees in front of him.  He looked up as he began unlacing Harry's boot and ran his fingers in the crook of Harry's knee, urging Harry to raise his legs so he could pull the boot off.  Harry put his hands against the wall to steady himself.  While he managed to balance, he felt anything but steady.

Haytham's hands ran up and down the smooth expanse of Harry's calves.  Ginny had insisted on hair removal in the spirit of authenticity.  Angels don't have leg hair, she'd assured him.  He tried to remind her that angels didn't exist, but she'd ignored him.  With the absence of the layer of hair, the man's touch seemed that much closer.  That much more intimate.

"Even your toes are gold," the man said in wonder.

"She's very thorough," Harry said awkwardly.

"How thorough?" Haytham's eyes went meaningfully to Harry's pants. 

Very, Harry realized.  He struggled to come up with a way to explain.  "It's a sort of paint.  I had to bathe in it," he said decisively.  "Extremely thorough."  He laughed.

Haytham lowered Harry's foot to the ground and attended to the other.  "You're not toxic, I hope," the man said with a grin.

Harry laughed.  "I hope so, too," he said, lifting his leg compliantly so the man could pull off his boot.  Haytham leant in to kiss the inside of his knee.  Harry bit his lip.

"You taste sweet," the man murmured, running his tongue up the inside of Harry's thigh.

"It's the glitter," Harry breathed, watching the man's slow progression toward his gold shorts.  Harry's fingers traced the rough skin of the man's jaw. 

The man put his hands on Harry's hips and stood.  He wore an amused smile when he said, "I think it's time to lose the halo."  His hands went behind to investigate how he might go about it, but Harry stopped him. 

"Let me.  There's a trick," he explained.  The halo was kept in place entirely by magic, but Ginny had added a small wire for authenticity.  Harry reached behind where the wire was attached to the wings and cancelled the spell to dislodge it.  He bent down to lay the golden ring on his shoes.  His hands went to unbuckle the harness for his wings, but Haytham took his hands in his own.

"Are they uncomfortable?" he said quietly, leaning in to deliberately bump Harry's nose with his own, tilting Harry's head back.

"Not really," Harry said, closing his eyes.  His hands stole forward, fingers brushing tentatively over the tight stomach he'd admired all night.  The man lingered tantalizingly close, but made no move to close the gap.  A hand slid under the folded wings at Harry's back and over his latex-covered arse, pulling Harry against him.

Harry let out a held breath and leant in to kiss the man, letting the nervous energy swirling within him drive the power of that kiss.  His hands trembled slightly as he slid them up to cup the man's face.  Haytham, for his part, held back.  He returned the kiss, teasingly, letting Harry lead, only to pull away before it could be escalated.  Harry made a plaintive noise and pulled away to glare at the man.

Haytham leant in with a grin and pulled Harry's bottom lip between his own.  "Can I get you a drink?"

Harry let out a desperate little laugh and let his head fall forward onto the man's shoulder.  "All right," he breathed, straightening up again.

Haytham stepped away and dropped his eyes to where the outline of Harry's erection was clear through the shorts.  He gave a satisfied smirk and turned to walk toward the kitchen area.  Harry followed feeling suddenly very naked under the bright lights of the flat.

"I only have Diet Coke, I'm afraid," the man told him.

"Whatever is fine," Harry said, leaning his elbows onto the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the room.  The man poured a generous measure of rum and filled the rest of the cup with diet coke.

"What do you do, Harry?"

Harry's eyes widened at the question.  "I … I'm in Law Enforcement," he said vaguely.

"A cop?" The man's eyebrows raised.  He took a drink from the tin.

"Not exactly," Harry said.  "It's more like secret service," he tried to explain.  "How long have you been in the night club business?"

"Ten years.  I inherited some money when my grandparents died and used it to open the club.  My family have since disowned me," he said with a sideways smile.  "They're very strict Muslims."

"Sorry," Harry said, wrinkling his nose. 

"I made a choice," the man said, shrugging.  "I have no regrets.  How old are you, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Thirty-four," Harry answered.  The man looked predictably surprised.  Harry looked nowhere near thirty-four by Muggle standards.

"And you're just now coming out?" Haytham said.

Harry laughed.  "It's complicated," he said. 

"I understand complicated," Haytham assured him.  "You've been dating women this whole time, then?"

Harry sighed and tried to decide what to tell the man.  "Not exactly," he said.

"You've not been celibate."

Harry laughed.  "No," he said firmly.  "It's very difficult to explain," he said.  "I could lie, but I'd rather not."

"You're married."

"It's a really long story."

"We have all night," Haytham said relentlessly.

Harry gave him an exasperated look.  "This is how you want to spend it?"

"You're the one who has issues with knowing the person you shag," Haytham laughed.

"Shouldn't you be giving your life story, then?" Harry challenged.

Haytham shrugged.  "I've known since I was twelve that I preferred boys.  It only became an issue when my parents tried to arrange a marriage for me.  I got out of it by asking to finish my studies first.  After getting my doctorate in economics, I inherited money, opened a gay club and removed myself from the problem."

"Have you ever been with a woman?" Harry asked, curiously.

Haytham shook his head.  "An advantage of growing up with such a morally strict family was that boys and girls were never really left alone together.  I've never been attracted to girls.  I went away to school in Brighton and indulged in the scene there.  Now you," Haytham insisted, leaning over the counter.

Harry gave a wary look and took a long drink from his glass.  "I didn't have a lot of time in school to dedicate to dating.  I began seeing a girl when I was sixteen and broke it off with her to concentrate on … my studies," Harry said carefully.  "We started up again later, but then she went away for four years, and I had my studies as well, so we didn't see each other very often.  I didn't have any problems with the sex.  We had similar inclinations, and she was … adventurous," Harry smiled.  "We were engaged to be married, but neither of us was in a hurry to do it.  And then, when I was twenty-three, I went on holiday over the New Year.  There was a bloke –"

"Ah, so you have slept with strangers," Haytham said with a grin.

Harry looked at him for a long moment.  He had nothing to lose by telling the truth.  He'd never see this man again after tonight.  "Actually, I'd known him since I was eleven," Harry said.  "He'd been my teacher."

Harry laughed at the scandalized look on the man's face.  "I threw myself at him," Harry reassured the man.  "I'd only recently learnt that he was gay and … I was fascinated.  He and I had a fairly rocky history.  I hated him as my teacher, but suddenly … Dunno.  I grew up or he wasn't such an arsehole.  Well, he's still a bastard, but I've learnt to appreciate his brand of wickedness."

"So you broke it off with the girl," Haytham supplied.

"I wanted to," Harry admitted.  "I went back home to do just that.  Before I got a chance, she told me she was pregnant."


"Yeah.  I was pretty gutted," Harry recalled.  "So, we got married."

"Did you ever tell her about your teacher?"

Harry laughed.  "Well, I told her about the affair.  But I didn't tell her who it was with.  She'd die if she found out.  We had a pretty open relationship, and she was having an affair with a woman while she was away, so it wasn't a problem for her."

"And your teacher?"

"He lives in America.  I see him from time to time.  We spent New Year's Eve together about six years ago and … well, I couldn't help myself.  I'd been doing well until then.  Ginny and I were never the same after that first time, but we had managed to find our way.  After the second time with Severus, I … realised what I was missing."

"So, you left your wife and then stayed celibate?" the man asked with an incredulous look.

Harry laughed.  "I told my wife what happened … eventually.  Actually, she'd sort of worked it out on her own, and I couldn't lie to her.  And since then, we compensate," Harry said, studying the man's reaction.

"You're still married."

"We've agreed to stay married until our youngest goes off to school," Harry told him.  "She's my best friend.  We get along really well and are both very practical.  The only thing we can't get past is sexual attraction."

"Bloody hell," Haytham breathed.

"I told you it was complicated."

Haytham laughed.  "You did," he admitted.  "I was thinking perhaps because of your work or… parents."

 "It's a bit weird, I know," he said.

"So, you both just… go your own way?"  Haytham asked and then his eyes alit with understanding.  "Kitty."

"Ginny," Harry corrected.  "We haven't really gone our own way … until tonight."  Harry lowered his eyes.  "Although, I suspect I just bollixed that up," he said with a rueful grin.

"It's been six years since you've been with a man?" Haytham asked.

Harry nodded.  "But we're very creative," he added.  "It's not been six years since I've had sex."

"Whips and latex," Haytham remembered.

Harry laughed.  "Among other things."


Harry snorted.  "I'm a tourist after all."

Haytham shook his head.  "You're not a tourist.  Tourists are the men and women who come in and try and take home our female customers.  It doesn't sound to me that you have much interest in having two women in your bed."

"No," Harry said firmly.  "But I'm not exactly on the market for a meaningful gay relationship either," he said.

Haytham laughed.  "Then we're all tourists," he said.  "So, why haven't you … explored?  It doesn't sound like your wife would mind."

Harry shrugged.  "My work takes up a lot of my time.  My family takes up the rest.  Gin and I go out once a month.  She flirts and generally acts the tart, and I'm normally content to watch, amused, from the sidelines.  It was her idea to start coming to gay bars from time to time, to give me practice."  Harry smiled fondly and shook his head.  "Except I'm rubbish at it.  Case in point," he said, spreading his arms demonstratively.  "The whole song and dance makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward," Harry admitted.  "Celibacy's easier."

"But you're here," Haytham pointed out.

"I have a thing for Pharaohs," Harry said wryly.

Haytham chuckled softly and rounded the counter.  "It's funny.  I've never much cared for angels," he said, leaning in to kiss Harry's shoulder.  "But I have a weakness for gold," he said.

"Does that mean I can lose the wings?" Harry said, turning to face the man.

Haytham smirked.  "No," the man said with a dark smile.  "But you can lose the pants, if you want."  His fingers went to Harry's hips to slide under the pants in question.

"I could, but you have some catching up to do."  Harry's fingers slid along the waist of Haytham's skirt, finding the buckle of the braided gold belt and unfastening it.  He leant in to kiss the man's neck, breathing in the sweet, musky scent of the man's aftershave.  "You smell nice," he sighed appreciatively and then kissed his way down to flick his tongue over a dark nipple as the man's skirt fell to his feet.  He looked down to find the man in silky white briefs and smiled up before sinking to his knees. 

He was in uncharted territory and he didn't know what to expect.  He had no idea what this man liked or disliked.  He didn't even know if he was a top or a bottom.  Harry found he didn't care one way or another.  He was suddenly taken with the thrill of discovery and, having taken the plunge, decided to throw himself into the experience.

He took a moment to explore the man's stomach with his mouth as his hands slipped over the slick fabric of the man's pants, stealing around to run his fingers along the man's cloth-covered erection.  He grinned at the sound of the hitched breath and moved down further to nuzzle against it, dragging his mouth over the fabric and breathing hotly.  His fingers curled under the waistband, and Harry looked up to see the man staring down at him.

"I'm going to take these off," Harry said, tugging them out and then pushing them down, freeing the man's circumcised erection, springing out of a tidy patch of curly black hair.  Harry captured it in his hand and tongued the exposed head, eliciting an encouraging moan from the man above.

It had been a long time.  The last time he and Ginny had indulged in Polyjuice was nearly two years ago, and Harry had nearly forgotten how much he enjoyed doing this.  The smell and taste of man flooded his senses.  Harry circled the thing with his tongue and then plunged, grabbing hold of the man's arse and swallowing him down.  The man gave a surprised gasp, followed by a sighed, "Fucking hell," and Harry's pride soared.  He was born to do this.

He offered a happy hum before sliding up, bringing his hand back to work the man as he suckled the head.  He vaguely recalled his brief experience having a circumcised cock and adjusted his technique according to that memory.  Haytham's fingers curled lightly around his jaw.  Harry looked up to grin at the man before descending again until the man's short hairs tickled his nose. 

Several times, he could feel the man's hands go to his hair, intent on getting a grip, and several times the attempt was aborted when he was confronted with the solid golden clumps.  Harry found himself annoyed that he'd not had the foresight to envisage this problem, but there was nothing he could do about it now. 

"Stop," Haytham breathed, pulling himself back away from Harry's open mouth.  "Wait." He urged Harry to stand and kissed him.  There was nothing teasing about it this time.  The man's tongue pushed forcefully forward, invading Harry's mouth and claiming it.

"Angels don't suck cock like that," the man said, breathlessly.

"How many angels have you had?" Harry laughed.

The man groaned in response and kissed Harry again, forcing him back a couple of steps before breaking away.  "Bed," he ordered.

"Bed," Harry agreed, and let the man lead him to a white door a few steps away.  It was a bedroom, and Harry had time to take in the large bed stretching out from the centre of the far wall before being kissed again and pulled toward it. He paused to rid himself of the flimsy shorts, moaning as his cock was promptly squeezed into a warm grip.  Haytham broke away to turn down the bed, revealing crisp white linens.  He sat and let his eyes roam along Harry's body, taking in the fully erect golden cock with its frozen golden curls.

"She doesn't do things by halves, does she?" he laughed.

Harry shook his head.  "It's a little disturbing, isn't it?" he said, looking down.  "She wanted me to look like a statue."

"Mission accomplished," Haytham said.  "It will come off, won't it?"  The man stretched out his hand to brush over the stiff mass of hair.

"I fucking hope so," Harry said.  "It would be a bit difficult to explain."

"Fancy dress gone wrong," Haytham teased.  "Spread your wings, little angel."

Harry complied, his wings unfolding out at his sides.

"I suppose it's a bit late to ask, but you are a bottom, right?"

Harry snorted.  "I'm versatile," he said.

"Brilliant."  Haytham scooted back to lie at the centre of the bed.  Harry crawled up to straddle his legs as the man curled over to open his nightstand.  He extracted a tube and a packet, which he used his teeth to tear open.  Harry looked at the thing curiously.

"Want to put it on me?" Haytham asked, holding it between his fingers.

Harry gave a sideways grin.  "I could try," he said, taking the slippery ring.

Haytham looked at him incredulously and then shook his head.  "You've never used one?"

Harry shook his head, unable to explain that he never really needed one.  He supposed that Severus must know how, given his experience with the Muggle world.

"Pinch the tip," the man instructed, and guided Harry's hand to his erection.  "Now roll it down."  Harry did as instructed, watching the thing unravel to sheathe the man's cock.  Haytham's hand followed his own to smooth the latex over, before reaching for the lube.  He squirted a generous amount over his covered erection.  Harry spread it over, kneeling up as the man reached between his thighs to slip his fingers over Harry's hole.

"You're tight," the man whispered, removing his hands and sitting up and squirting another dollop over his fingers before bringing them behind again to ease the stuff inside Harry. 

Harry gasped at the cool feeling , arching his back to offer better access.  "It's been ages," Harry breathed, tilting his head forward to take the man's earlobe in his teeth.  He could feel the finger reach up inside him and fervently wanted more.  "It's enough," he breathed, pushing the man back down to the bed as he crawled up further.  Haytham's hand closed over his cock, holding the base as Harry slid his arse along the head until it pressed against its target.

"Slowly," Haytham said, meeting Harry's eyes.

Harry nodded and eased downward, trying to remember how to breathe as the head fought against the tight ring for entrance.  He bit his lip against a pained hiss when the head won, punching past the muscle.  Harry pulled up slightly and then sat down further, breathing deeply and concentrating on relaxing.  Haytham watched him, deep brown eyes glittering in the light of the room.

He was a stranger.  There was no affection here.  The man was likeable enough, but it felt weird to not have emotion behind the need to be filled.  There was nothing intimate about this experience.  It was just sex.  Uncomplicated fulfilment of basic needs.

And that was all right at the moment.  Harry let an ecstatic moan escape as he was seated fully.  It had been too long, he reflected.  How could he ever have thought he could live without this?  He opened his eyes and curled forward to kiss the man between breaths.  "That feels fucking fantastic," he whispered.

Haytham hummed his agreement and reached between them to stroke Harry's cock, adding pleasure to the subsiding burn.  Harry sat up again and moved, sliding up and down and angling his hips back to optimize the pleasure of the experience.  Haytham gave a tight groan and flexed his hips, sliding his feet up to gain purchase against the bed as he drove up to meet Harry's downward strokes.

Haytham's hands went to Harry's hips, and Harry curled his around his own erection as both men drove themselves toward their common objective.  Harry opened his eyes to see the dark eyes of the man blazing up at him intensely.  The man's elaborate necklace tinkled faintly with every thrust.  His fingers dug into Harry's hips as he pulled him down forcefully, spearing up past Harry's prostate.  Harry could feel the wings' resistance to air every time he was forced downward. 

Before long, the coil of desire in Harry's abdomen grew impossibly tight.  Harry released with a choked groan, his head thrown back as though to praise the heavens, his body suspended, paralysed with pleasure as Haytham drove upward into the squeezing tightness.  Once released from bliss, Harry did what he could to collaborate in the other man's undoing.  Driving his hips back, squeezing around the man each time he speared upward.  Minutes later the man came with an incoherent groan, his back arching spectacularly. 

Harry grinned as he watched, slowing his movements over the man's pulsing cock, and eventually stopping to curl down to kiss the man.  Haytham grinned against Harry's mouth.  "I half expected you to come glitter," he laughed.  "I can't tell if I'm relieved or disappointed."

Harry pulled back and laughed, nimbly climbing off the man and suppressing the impulse to cast a cleaning charm.  He was surprised to find he didn't need it.  The condom kept everything remarkably tidy.  Haytham scooted off the bed and disappeared into an adjoining room.  Harry got up to follow him, folding the wings back up and leaning against the door of the bathroom and watched the man dry himself.  He reached up to unclip the necklace, smiling at Harry from the mirror.

"I think I can honestly say that I'll never forget this night," he said.  "I will go to my deathbed with the image of an angel riding my cock," he laughed.

Harry grinned.  "I suppose we made a fairly stunning tableau," he said.  He looked forward to watching it again later with Ginny. 

Haytham bent over the basin and scrubbed his face with soap to remove the eyeliner, offering Harry a view of his arse, muscles taut, a dark shadow of hair lining the cleft.  Harry had a strong urge to bite him, but refrained.

He wasn't sure what the protocol was now.  Should he get dressed and go?  Would Ginny still be at the club?  He needed his cloak, if only to get to a safe place from which he could apparate home.  Haytham stood and blindly took up a towel to dry his face.  He turned and smiled.

"Do you want to shower or anything?" he asked uncertainly.  "I think I have some … cold cream.  But probably not enough," he laughed.

Harry laughed.  "If you don't mind.  I'm assured it comes off relatively easily," he said.

"Need someone to scrub your back?"

Harry shook his head.  "I think I'd rather see the look on your face during the big reveal," he said with an amused smile.

"Are you hideous?" Haytham asked.

"Terribly," Harry responded gravely.

"Oh, dear," the man said, stepping forward to press a kiss to Harry's forehead.  "Go on, then.  Give us a shout if you need anything."

Harry nodded.  "All right," he said, stepping further into the bathroom as the man left.  The door closed, and Harry looked in the mirror to see a gold statue staring back.  He waved at the door to lock it and then undid the harness that held the wings, cancelling the feather light spell that had been put on them to make the weight tolerable. 

The shower was large with a dinner plate-sized shower head that rained water down on his skin.  Harry cancelled the spell that turned him gold and then used the man's citrus scented soap to wash himself.  He took longer than was necessary, reasoning that it would take some time for a Muggle to remove paint.  As he stood there, he reflected on how very strange it was to have been so intimate with someone he didn't know.

What he knew of the gay scene, this scenario was normal for most.  Severus himself had subsisted on one-night stands for years.  But the absence of affection and emotion was new to Harry, and he felt unsure as to how to act. 

When he thought he'd spent a reasonable amount of time cleaning himself, he stepped out the shower and dried himself with a dark blue towel that was folded on a shelf.  He wrapped it around his waist and picked up his wings, unlocking the door.

The bedroom was empty, so he stepped out into the larger room beyond.  He spied the man standing in a bathrobe at the far end of the room by an open window.  A tendril of smoke curled up and out the window from a cigarette. 

He turned at the sight of Harry's reflection in the mirror.  Harry gave an awkward smile and spread his arms as though to say, "Ta da!"

Haytham's face lit up in surprise.  He didn't appear disappointed, which was encouraging.  Harry walked over to the door to put the wings by his shoes.

"I expected you to be blond for some reason," he said.

Harry laughed.  "Sorry to disappoint," he said blandly, running his hand through his wet hair.  He shivered as a blast of winter air caught his moist skin.  Haytham crushed out the cigarette and closed the window.

"Not at all," he assured him.  "I suppose my shower's a mess of gold," he teased, walking forward and urging Harry to turn to inspect.

"I cleaned up after myself," Harry answered.  His skin tensed under the man's touch.  Haytham pressed up behind him and tugged the towel free, peering over Harry's shoulder to get a look.  His fingers stroked through the dark curls at the base of Harry's cock.

"Very nice job," he said, kissing Harry's neck.

Harry turned in the man's embrace and looked up him.  Haytham's looked at him appraisingly with an indescribable smile on his face.  Harry raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

"You look so young," the man said with a smile. 

"I get that a lot," Harry said. 

"I can only imagine how young you looked at twenty-three.  Your teacher is a dirty old man."

Harry laughed.  "It's part of his charm."

"Are you wearing contacts?"  The man looked into his eyes.


"You have the greenest eyes I've ever seen.  I thought it was part of the costume.  You know, to add to the celestial look."

Harry snorted and shook his head. "No," he said.

The man continued to study him, stepping back to run his fingers over Harry's flesh coloured torso.  Harry fidgeted under the inspection.  It was one thing to be admired as a work of art, it was quite another to be studied as himself.  "You have a lightning bolt on your forehead," he said in wonder.

Harry's hand came up to rub the scar.  "Yeah."

"I'm beginning to believe you are celestial."

"Because I have a scar on my forehead?" Harry said incredulously.

"The scar, the eyes, the eternal youth," Haytham said.

"I assure you I'm mortal," Harry said dryly.

"I like you better this way," the man decided.  "Although, I miss the wings.  Can you stay?"

Harry's eyes widened.  "Do you want me to?"

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't."

"I'll have to be home by ten," Harry said.

A wicked grin crossed the man's face.  "I'll be finished by then," he promised. 


Chapter Text

"Good morning," Ginny said, smiling up at Harry over the Prophet.

"Hey," he said with a sheepish smile, sliding into the seat next to her. 

"You look exhausted," she noted, her mouth curling into a wicked smirk.

Harry yawned on cue and nodded.  The two looked at each other for a long moment before the momentary awkwardness dissolved into laughter.  "How was it?" he asked.

"It was brilliant.  We stayed at the club for a bit longer and then went to a house party.  I can't remember the last time I had a good snog," she said, her cheeks going pink.  "We went back to her flat and ... well, I'll show you tonight.  What about you?"

"We didn't do much snogging," Harry said with a smile that stretched impossibly wide.  "He lives above the club and after the tour he took me up to his flat and ... it was nice," Harry decided.  "Weird though.  How are you feeling?"

She gave him a look and then wrinkled her nose and nodded.  "Weird.  A little guilty."

"Yeah," Harry agreed.  "It was all right last night, but this morning was..."



Harry summoned a mug and set a tea bag to steep.  The two sat quietly reflecting.  "It was nice of him to lend you clothes," she said.  "I had this image of you walking the streets of London in gold hot pants."

Harry narrowed his eyes.  "Very funny.  He was amused by the same image," he told her.  "He wants to hire you to do the costumes for the next fancy dress night."

Ginny hummed wistfully.  "How much fun would that be?" she said.  "Pity.  I'd love that job," she sighed.  "So I suppose you'll see him again to give him back his clothes?"

Harry shook his head.  "I thought I'd just post them to the club," he admitted.  "Are you going to see your Lion Tamer again?"

Ginny's smile faded, and she shook her head.  "She wanted to see me tonight.  I didn't know what to tell her.  I feel really bad, you know?  Like I'm screwing with people's hearts.  It's not like I can be honest."

Harry snorted.  "I told him everything," he admitted.

"What?  What did he say?"

"Nothing, really.  It isn't like he was interested in starting a relationship," Harry pointed out. 

Ginny frowned.  "It's not the same for women.  Julie had just got out of a six-year relationship with some girl who left her for one of their friends.  I told her that I wasn't really interested in anything meaningful, but I think she was optimistic anyway."  She sighed and put her head in her hand. 

Harry reached over to stroke her shoulder.  "I'm sorry," he said. 

"Don't be," Ginny said.  "It was my idea, wasn't it?  I was happy to have the night out and happy that you got a seeing to," she said with a smirk.  "I just hate ..."

"Deception," Harry finished.  Ginny nodded.  "It felt really weird for me not to have any sort of emotional connection with him."

She frowned at him.  "But you didn't have any emotional connection with the Swiss bloke," she pointed out.

He couldn't really argue the contrary, except to say, "It was different.  Maybe because he was the first.  Or because I was so young the first time it happened.  Or because he'd been healing me.  It was just different," he said.  "With Haytham, it was just sex.  Good sex.  But empty.  You know?"

She shook her head and then laughed.  "I don't know what that says about me."

"You're a right slapper," Harry teased.

She snorted and pushed him out of his chair.  "All right, Saint Harry.  Go and get your lover's clothes off so we can go and see the kids," she said with a meaningful look. 



January 9, 2015

Dear Severus,

I have officially cheated on you.

I never really counted Ginny as "other men" in any of her male incarnations.  Ridiculous, perhaps, but she is my wife.  A very long time ago, you made me promise to give you details were I to explore other men.  I can now make good on that promise. 

There was a fancy dress party for New Year's Eve at a gay club called the Blue Note in London (and yes, New Year's Eve is a running theme in my gay sex life).  Ginny and I decided to go, and, being magically inclined, Ginny created award-winning costumes for us (the photo was taken just before we went out.  The silly gold statue is me).  She won a year's free entry into the club.  I won a year's membership to some sort of private gay gentlemen's club called the Blue Room.

She and I more or less parted ways when we got there, as she was snatched up by Julie, the Lion Tamer.  The owner of the club, Haytham, who was dressed as an Egyptian Pharaoh, offered to give me a tour of the club and show me what I'd won.  After he established that I was, in fact, not a straight man chasing lesbian fantasies, he brought me into the Blue Room.  It was a bit seedy, with a little back room offering private stalls for hedonistic pursuits, but in a classy sort of way. 

I went home with the owner.  I don't know why, exactly, except that Ginny had made it clear that she wouldn't be coming home with me and made it equally clear that I would be a fool not to take advantage of the Pharaoh's hospitality.  And he was very attractive.  And why not?

I'm tempted to send you the memory, just so you can see the bizarre tableau we made.  I was on top of him, my wings spread out, every inch of me golden.  And he lay below me, copper-skinned and decked out in golden cuffs and a great Egyptian necklace that covered the top part of his chest.  His eyes were lined in black.

It was weird.  Pleasurable, but in an empty sort of way.  I'd never been with someone I didn't have some sort of emotional connection with, and the difference was startling.  After we finished, I had no idea what to do.  I felt like the objective had been met, and I should quietly slip away. 

I didn't.  I got cleaned up (cancelling all the charms) and went out to meet him.  He wasn't disappointed by the real me.  He liked my eyes and my scar and asked me to stay.  The sex wasn't earth-shattering, but it felt good after nearly two years of not being buggered.  I learnt how to put on a condom, which may come in useful someday.

I woke up in an alien bed with a perfect stranger.  We had a cup of coffee.  He leant me some clothes so I didn't have to go out into the cold in golden hot pants.  He gave me his card and told me to get in touch with him to finalise my club membership.

And that's it.  My introduction to the world of anonymous sex.  I've not got in touch with him yet.  I don't know if I will, as I can't really go to the club as myself without fear of discovery.  I sent him back his clothes with a note of thanks.

Happy birthday, by the way.  I know you said you don't drink tea over there, but maybe with a bit of proper tea, you might like to indulge once in awhile. 

I hope you're well.




"Is that from Harry?"

Severus looked up, letting the letter fold closed, and watched as David took up the photo of the married couple. 

"Holy shit," David exclaimed, eyes widening at the sight of the pair. 

Severus laughed.  "They went to a fancy dress party for New Year's Eve," Severus explained.  "Apparently they won the costume contest."

"How can she not know her husband's queer?" David said, shaking his head.  "Look at him."

"It would appear that the costume was his wife's doing," Severus explained.  "And she's well aware of his inclinations," Severus told him.  "They work around it."

"How do you work around that?" David said, dropping the photo to Severus' desk.

Severus smirked.  "I realise you have limited experience with our world, but if you try hard, I'm sure you can think of a way," he said.

David frowned at him.  "Not ... that potion?"

Severus nodded.  "Don't think too much about it," Severus advised.  "Theirs is a relationship that we mortals cannot begin to comprehend.  How are you feeling?"

"Better," David said.

"Have you called your doctor?"

David stared at him with a grim look.  "I'm not going to the doctor every time I have a stomach complaint, Hadrian.  I'm fine."

They'd been through this several times.  "Most people do not have stomach complaints so frequently, David.  Just go and get it checked out."

"They'll only tell me that it's a stomach virus.  Like last time.  Stop mothering me," the man said irritably.

Severus glared at the man.  There was something wrong with him.  Severus could sense it even if he couldn't identify what was causing the issues. The idiotic Muggle doctors threw pills at any ailment without even trying to discern the root cause.  They treated symptoms.  A pill to stop the stomach cramping.  An injection to calm the trembling.  "Fine," Severus said tersely.

David sighed and rounded the desk to stand behind Severus.  He put his hands on Severus' shoulders and kneaded the knots there.  "You worry too much," he said softly. 

Severus swivelled his chair around to face the man.  "You don't worry enough," Severus accused.  "You're stubborn and impossible to reason with."

David laughed and sat on Severus' laugh.  "Pot, kettle, Mr Prince," he said and kissed the thin line of Severus' lips.  "How's Harry?"

Severus gave an irritable scowl at the change of subject and ignored an unreasonable pang of jealousy.  He had no real claim on the man, but he couldn't help but feel something had been stolen from him.  "He's well," Severus said.  "He's taken an interest in ancient Egypt," he said with only a hint of bitterness. 

David gave him a puzzled smile and shrugged.  "An interesting topic.  Has he been to Egypt?"

"I couldn't say.  Are you feeling up to lunch this afternoon?"

David nodded.  "Do you want me to bring something?"

Severus shook his head.  "We'll go out.  I'll come up to get you."

"Is that your polite way of telling me to get lost?"

Severus smiled.  "I thought I'd make an effort.  Bugger off," he said, pushing the man from his lap.

"Yes, dear," David said blandly, and then left the room.    

Severus waited to hear the door to the flat close before taking up a pen to write a response.

15 January 2015

Dear Harry,

I have a sudden, mad hatred for Egyptians. 

I don't know whether to congratulate you or not.  I suppose this day was long in coming.  The only remarkable thing was that it took you over ten years to get here.  I'm pleased to know that you and the missus have come to an agreement that works for you.  I can't begin to understand it, but I applaud it nonetheless.

David and I spent New Year's Eve at the annual lesbian karaoke night, hosted by David's sister.  It's slightly more bearable when one has someone there to share in the misery.  I thought of you, as I invariably do, during the round of Auld Lang Syne.  I despise nostalgia, but the song holds a special place in my thoughts, and I remember you well.

I remember you very well.

I'd quite like to see your memory, although it would be highly inappropriate of me to indulge in that curiosity.  I can picture it well enough.  I normally find the idea behind angels abhorrent, but the idea of watching the wings flutter as I slam into one tickles the shadowy depths of my kinky soul.  I imagine you were divine, indeed.

I'll stop that train of thought here, before my imagination runs away with my better sense.  Anonymous sex may not be fulfilling in quite the same way as sex with someone you care for, but it serves its purpose.  Every now and again you manage to connect with a perfect stranger, and the results are satisfying indeed.  Please do not take this as encouragement to find this out for yourself.  In fact, I think it best if you never sleep with another man again.

I embrace my hypocrisy.

For my part, I am well enough.  David, on the other hand, is ill as often as he is well, and the impossible man refuses to do anything about it.  I know that something's not right with him, but I don't know enough about medicine to be more specific.  Unfortunately, the same could be said for his physician.  I'm frustrated.  There's probably nothing seriously wrong, but it irks me that he won't go for a second opinion.  He accuses me of mothering him, as though I have a maternal bone in my body.

Thank you for the tea.  I will look forward to drinking a cup this afternoon.




"How's Teddy?"

Harry shook his head.  "I can't believe he's starting his sixth year," he said dully.

Ginny laughed.  "Sorry.  I should have asked, how are you?"

"Old," Harry said gravely. 

Ginny snorted.  "You can't be old.  Because that would mean that I'm old, and I'm not old enough to be old."

"James goes to school next year," Harry said to prove his point.  It was as if time was running away from him, and he wasn't ready for it to go so quickly.

"You all right?" Ginny asked, wrapping her arms around him. 

"What are we going to do, Gin?" he said, leaning his head against hers.

"Oh, dear," she said soberly.  "I need more wine for this."  She pulled out of his arms and went to top up her wine glass.

Harry slipped into a chair at the table and stared at the clock on the wall.  It had been a gift from Molly and Arthur.  The hands representing the children pointed to "In Bed".  They had four more years.  It sounded like a long time, but given how quickly the last ten years had gone, Harry knew that Lily would be gone before he knew it.  And then, he and Ginny would be free.

He wasn't ready for that freedom.  It came with a certain level of truth that he wasn't ready to face.  He'd tried on numerous occasions to imagine how the conversations would go.  "Ginny and I are getting a divorce."  But why? They would all ask.  Surely, you could reconcile...

But their issues were irreconcilable, and everyone would know that he was to blame.  His imagination refused to conjure the incredulous expressions on the faces of those he counted as family.  The hurt and disgust in Molly's and Arthur's faces.  Ron would hate him.  The kids would be devastated and would have to face the humiliation of having their Dad's shame plastered on every bloody Wizarding periodical in the nation.  They'd be teased and mocked, and it would be his fault. 

The alternative would be not to come out at all.  To continue sneaking around under glamours into shadowy clubs and contenting himself with empty, anonymous couplings, never daring to take it further lest it become widely known.  But then, everyone might blame Ginny, who would, by then, be in a hurry to find someone who could properly appreciate her charms.  He couldn't let that happen.

Ginny slipped into the chair next to him, setting a glass before him.  "All right, Potter.  Let's talk," she said in resignation.  "What's wrong?"

Harry shook his head.  "I fucked everything up," he said in a flat voice.

"Define everything," she responded.

"Us.  The kids.  Everything, Gin."

"The last I knew, you weren't in this alone.  We haven't fucked anything up," she insisted.

"Yet," he said.  "But we will.  I will."  He was going to lose everything.  He felt he'd come full circle and was back to where he'd been before he knew Ginny was pregnant.  Fear of loss.  Fear of abandonment. This time, however, the stakes were higher.  He had so much more to lose.

Ginny ran her hand through his hair and then turned his head to face her.  "Oh, Harry.  I know it isn't going to be easy.  But we have years to prepare for it, right?"

"That's the problem, Ginny.  To us, it will be a logical conclusion.  To everyone else ... god, they have no idea."  Harry shook his head.  "One day, we'll be fine, and the next we'll be filing for divorce.  And why?  Because I'm a sodding poof."  He dropped his head into his hands and stroked his scar.

 "We don't have to tell them that," she said quietly.

Harry gave her an incredulous look.  "It will come out eventually.  They'll draw conclusions, Ginny."

She nodded.  "But everyone loves you, Harry.  Hell, I think mum likes you better than she likes me.  They're not going to turn on you.  And it's not entirely your fault.  If I hadn't pushed you ..." 

"Somehow, I don't see us bringing up those details, do you?" Harry said, the corner of his mouth quirked up a little at the very idea.    "I don't know if that changed anything anyway.  It may have aggravated it, but the tendency was already there."

Ginny snorted.  "Aggravated it?  You make it sound like a disease," she said.

"It is," Harry said darkly.  "It feels like it is."

She rolled her eyes.  "It's you.  It's a part of you.  And I love that part of you.  You make a good poof," she said with a smile.

He gave her a bland look.

"So, what should we do?"

"I have no idea.  I'm worried about having this all come out when the kids are at school.  They'll be humiliated, Ginny.  You know what kids are like."  Evil, in a word.  Kids were evil and insensitive and latched onto things like this, using it for ammunition to torture their classmates. 

She widened her eyes and then grew pensive.  After a long moment, she said, "Do you think we should do it sooner?"

The very idea made Harry want to retch.  He was panicked enough at the idea of doing it in four year's time.  "No," he said.  But he didn't want to do it later either.  He didn't want to do it.  At all.  "Maybe," he sighed.  "What do you think?"

 "I think you're right about it being too much of a shock.  We need to sort of ease things onto people," she said.  "We need to find away to ... convince everyone that splitting up is the best thing for us."

"How?" Harry laughed. 

Ginny frowned.  "We'll give them the truth.  In little doses at a time.  I'll work on mum.  She's going to be the hardest to convince, but ... once she's won over, everyone else will follow suit."

Harry gave her a worried look.  "How are you going to do that?"

She began to chew her bottom lip thoughtfully, her eyes cast to the side as she began strategising.  After a moment, she smiled and looked at Harry.  "I'll think of a way.  You ... you need to talk to Hermione.  She knows a bit about this and can help us with Ron.  We'll have her just hint to him that you're not as straight as he'd believed.  He already thinks we're freaks, it will just confirm it for him."    

Harry offered her a doubtful look, but nodded.  "And then he'll tell George," he said, understanding the strategy.  He wasn't without apprehension, but he thought it might help to prepare for the inevitable end.  "What about the kids?" he asked.

She sighed and nodded.  "We won't worry about that yet.  Let's just work on the rest of them first.  Kids are resilient, though," she offered.  "I mean, you're living proof of that, right?"

"I'd just as soon my kids don't go through what I did," Harry said.

"Well, they wouldn't, would they?"  She rolled her eyes.  "We can't shelter them for the rest of their lives.  It isn't like we're going to have a messy divorce, or make them choose who they're going to live with.  So long as you and I are straight ..."  She gave an amused smile at her word choice.  "You and I are fine.  They will be, too."

"You're incredibly optimistic," Harry said doubtfully.

"One of us has to be," she replied.


"So what's up?" Hermione said as soon as the waitress moved out of the muffling spell.  "You look like you're about to sick up," she commented.

Harry tried to smile, but couldn't.  "I need to ask you to do something," he said.  "For Ginny and me."

"All right," she said tentatively.  "So long as it doesn't involve taking my clothes off," she joked with an amused smile.

Harry gave her a bland look.  "Ew," he said.

"Hey!" Hermione protested.  "I don't look that bad."

"Are you saying you want to take your clothes off for us?" Harry asked with a grin.

"Ew," Hermione echoed.  "So what, then?  You want us to watch the kids?"

Harry shook his head.  He needed to just say it, but the prospect of telling Hermione to tell Ron he was interested in men clashed so violently with his very nature, he was having trouble finding the words.  "I need you to tell Ron about the Polyjuice thing," he said.

Hermione's eyes nearly popped out of her head.  "You're joking," she said, looking like she fervently hoped he'd confirm that.

Harry wrinkled his nose and shook his head.  "I'm not," he said.

She sat speechlessly gaping at him a moment.  "But why?" she finally managed.

Harry took a deep breath and said quickly, "So when I finally tell him I'm gay, it doesn't come as too much a shock."  Judging by the look he received from Hermione, foreknowledge didn't guarantee immediate acceptance.

"Oh, Harry," she breathed. 

"Sorry," he said.  He thought he'd say that a lot over the course of the next few years. 

"Oh, god.  What are you going to do?" she asked quietly.

Harry shrugged.  "We'll get a divorce eventually.  Ginny and I are okay about it.  We get along better now than we have for years.  We just don't ... get on like that anymore."

Hermione looked sadly at her plate.  "It's funny.  I was always a bit jealous of the two of you," she admitted. 

"God, why?" Harry asked, baffled as to how anyone could envy his situation.

"Well, you're both so adventurous.  I never thought you two would have issues in the bedroom," she said.

Harry snorted.  "Neither did I.  But I think our adventurousness hasn't done us any favours.  Were it not for our adventurousness, I might have remained blissfully ignorant."

"Do you think so?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged.  "Probably not.  But it's strange, isn't it?  It started getting unbearable when ..."  Harry shook his head.  "I can't believe I'm telling you this."

"Go on," Hermione urged. 

"After our argument, we made it up.  I agreed to let her experiment ... as a bloke.  We did it a few times over the next few years, but then ... well, I couldn't respond to her anymore in female form," he said, lowering his voice, despite the privacy spell surrounding them.  "She, on the other hand, can be with hundreds of women and prefer men."

"Well, it's the Kinsey scale, isn't it?"

Harry blinked.  "The what?"

"God, I should have brought the book," she sighed and then frowned.  "I'll bring it by the office."

"I would prefer you didn't."

"It's just a theory of sexuality.  People can be placed on a scale from one to six, one being totally heterosexual ... Like Ron.  And six being totally gay."

"Like me."

"No, probably not as you did once find Ginny attractive.  You might be a five.  Maybe you were a four before and changed as you got older.  And Ginny's probably closer to a two or three – Heterosexual with incidental homosexuality."

 Harry stared at her incredulously.  "How do you know about this?"  He asked bewildered.

"I bought a book," she responded.  "After you and Ginny had your problem.  I'd never heard of gayness coming out so late in life, and so ..."

"You bought a book."

"It's what I do," she said, rolling her eyes.

"I love you, Hermione.  Truly."

She grinned back.  "You really want me to tell Ron?"

Harry shook his head.  "Not really.  But we need to start somewhere."

"God, I don't know how that's going to go," she said.  "I probably have to give him some sort of context, though.  I may need to tell him about Switzerland."

Harry nodded.  "Just make sure he knows that Ginny was seeing Gwyn in that case.  And that she knows about it," he said. 

"Yeah.  Otherwise, I'd have to stun him to keep him from running over and strangling you."  She went quiet again.  "How the hell am I even going to bring it up?"

"You'll find a way," Harry said.

She gave him an annoyed look, but nodded.  "What are you going to do with the kids?" she asked.

"I really don't know.  We thought to wait until Lily goes to school, but I'm not sure I want all this to come out when they're at school, you know?  Kids are brutal," he said worriedly.

"You should start preparing them," she agreed.  "Start talking to them about different types of families ..."  Her eyes went wide.  "I saw a book-"

Harry laughed.  "Of course you did."


"How did it go?" Harry said, coming in from the bathroom to find Ginny slumped back on the bed.  She looked to have been crying.

She offered a small smile.  "It went well," she said.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked, unconvinced.

Her smile held a moment longer before crumpling into a grimace.  She put her hands over her face.  "I don't know what's wrong with me," she muttered to her palms. 

Harry sat down and reached for her.  "Hey," he said.  "Come here." 

She sat up and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his neck and sobbing.  He sat dumbstruck, stroking her back.  He held her until the she pulled back, face red and tear-streaked.  She sniffed wetly.  "I'm sorry," she said. 

"What happened?" he said, worried despite her erstwhile reassurance.

"Nothing," she said.  "Really.  It went well.  But ... fuck.  Just talking about it, you know?"  She wiped her eyes and sniffed again.  "It just made it real.  I mean, I thought I was okay with everything."  Her eyes were red from crying when she turned them toward Harry.  "I don't know what I'm going to do without you.  I've loved you all my life."

The admission hit him like a fist in the gut.  Ginny was supposed to be the confident one.  The one who found ways of working around everything.  She was his strength.  He knew she wasn't unaffected by what was happening, but she'd not broken down.  She'd not shown him this.

And there was nothing he could do about it.  The kindest thing he could do for her was to let her go her own way.  She deserved to be loved and desired.  She deserved to be worshipped.  "We can try again," he said, desperate to take away her pain.  She laughed sadly and fell back down to the bed.  Harry lay next to her, wrapping his arm around her.  "I love you," he said.  "I wish it were enough."

"Me too," she said.  "The thing is, I don't want to try anymore.  I love you, but I don't want to be with you anymore, Harry.  I just don't want not to be with you either," she said, snorting at her own contradiction.

Harry understood completely.  "I'm not going anywhere," Harry promised.  "Whatever happens, you're my best friend.  That's not going to change," he said.

She nodded.  "I know," she said.  "Hopefully my next boyfriend will understand that," she said with a wry smile.

Harry laughed.  "He'd better.  A jealous man wouldn't last two minutes with you," he teased.

She grunted in agreement.

"Do you want to stay in?" he asked.

She shook her head.  "I'll go and get ready.  Do you want to see how it went?"

Harry wasn't really sure he did, but he nodded anyway.  "All right."

They went to the study and Ginny extracted the memory and left him staring into the swirling bowl.  He took a bracing breath before tipping forward into the Burrow's kitchen.   The air was filled with the smell of Molly's cooking.  Somewhere in the distance, Harry could hear the kids playing.

"Mum, can I talk to you?"

"Just a tick, dear," Molly said busily, setting the potatoes to peel themselves and then flicking her wand toward the tea service, sending it to the table.  She wiped her hands on a tea towel and then turned.  Her face fell at the sight of Ginny's worried expression.  "Ginny, what's the matter?" she asked, coming over to where Ginny sat at the table.  "Did you and Harry have a row?"

Ginny shook her head.  "Not really," she said.  "Not a row.  We're getting along really well, actually.  Better than we have for years, but..."

Molly poured the tea and scooted her chair up close to her daughter, so that their knees touched.  "But?" she said, smiling encouragingly.  Her hand reached to tilt Ginny's face up.

Ginny looked at her mother uncertainly.  "It's not easy to talk about, mum.  It's been going on so long ... I don't even know where to start."

Molly picked up a cup of tea and forced it into Ginny's hands.  "Ginny, you're worrying me.  Is something wrong with Harry?"

A small smile tugged at the side of Ginny's mouth.  "He's not attracted to me anymore, mum," she said quietly.

Molly visibly relaxed and gave her daughter a sympathetic smile.  "Oh, Ginny.  These things are bound to wane after several years of marriage.  I'm sure Harry appreciates what a beautiful wife he has, but he's a busy man.  With kids and his job-"

"That's really not it," Ginny said flatly.  She took a deep breath.  "I never told you this, mum, but if I hadn't gotten pregnant, Harry and I would never have been married."

Molly frowned deeply.  "Don't be silly, dear.  You'd been engaged for years."

"We'd been engaged," Ginny said.   "But we fought constantly and ... we were seeing other people," she said.  "Well, I was."

"Ginny!" Molly gasped, scandalised.

"Harry knew about it, mum.  I was always gone.  We had an agreement," Ginny explained.

Molly looked momentarily ill as she said quietly, "James is Harry's, isn't he?"

"Mum!" Ginny shouted, "Of course he is.  I wasn't seeing other men," Ginny specified, moving one hand to cover her eyes.

"Oh," Molly said, sitting back against the chair with a puzzled frown.  "But then... Oh!" she gasped.  "Oh, my."

"We had an agreement that we could see other people, so long as it was people of the same sex," Ginny explained.  "Only I was bisexual and Harry ... wasn't."

Harry wasn't sure if to laugh or to cry watching the scene.  Molly was getting a far too intimate view of their sordid sex life.  It was funny and horrifying all at once.

Molly took a sip of her tea to cover her shock.  She composed herself, remembering her maternal role, and cleared her throat.  "Well, dear.  These things are not as easy for men.  Women are more affectionate by nature.  You can't expect Harry to force himself to be attracted to men."

"Mum, Harry's gay."

Harry's hand went to his scar.  Molly's hand went to her throat.  "Don't be silly, Ginny," she said weakly.  "You have three beautiful children.  If Harry were ... well, children experiment.  It doesn't mean –"

"He'd only just realised it when I got pregnant," Ginny continued, her eyes welling with tears.  "We were fine for a few years, but it doesn't just go away.  And now, he ... can't respond to me," she said, her tears falling over her cheeks.  "He's trying really hard, mum.  I know he loves me, but he's ... he's miserable.  We both are."

Molly pulled her daughter into her arms and patted her back.  "There, there," she cooed.  "Are you sure, Ginny?  After all, you didn't have this problem before.  Perhaps he just ... He's under a lot of pressure.  Or there are some conditions that cause this."

Ginny shook her head and pulled back to summon tissue.  She wiped her nose.  "It's not broken, mum.  He can respond to ... other things.  It's all my fault," she said desperately.  "He tried to ignore it for years and then I made him ...  I just wanted to understand, you know.  I wanted to offer it to him.  So I ... brewed Polyjuice."

Molly gave up the understanding mother role to bury her own face in her hands.  "Oh, Ginny.  I don't think I want to hear this," she said quietly.

"I'm sorry," Ginny said, with a small giggle that had more to do with nerves than with humour.  She scrubbed her hands with her face and stared into her mug. "After that he was never the same again.  It's like I just tipped him over the edge or something," she said, barely above a whisper.

Molly reached out.  "Oh, Ginny, you can't blame yourself," she said, stroking Ginny's hair.

"But  I made him, mum.  He tried to talk me out of it.  I insisted.  And now ... I've lost him," she cried.

Molly pulled Ginny to her again and pressed a kiss into her hair.  "I'm sure that's not true," she said.  "We'll work this out.  Every couple has their problems," she said.

"You can't say anything to him, mum.  He's terrified that everyone's going to hate him if they find out.  I just needed to talk to someone," she said.

"Of course you did," said Molly, sniffing.  "You know you can always talk to me.  That goes for Harry as well.  I could never hate him.  He's like my own son," she said, her voice wobbling as she held her daughter.

Harry was expelled from the penseive.  He landed unsteadily and fell back into the desk chair, where he sat holding his head.  His heart pounded as though he'd just run a mile.  It was done.  The secret was out.  Molly would confide in Arthur and, Harry imagined, the talk would come Sunday when they went for dinner.  Ron would know soon, if Hermione hadn't already told him.  Ron would tell George.

Harry could feel the proverbial ball rolling, gathering speed and momentum and violently crashing through the fragile world he and Ginny had built up around themselves over the past ten years.  He tried to tell himself that they'd not really been living a lie.  He loved her, and she loved him.  The family they had built was strong and relatively happy – but for the sex.

It seemed such a tiny, insignificant part of his life just now.  Even when he and Ginny were at their most active, the sex accounted for such a small percentage of their lives.  A few hours a week at most.  How was it that something so small could have such a devastating effect on the overall satisfaction of their life as a couple?  He and Ginny were perfect together in so many other ways.  Was it really worth it to throw away the almost perfection for that one small shortcoming?

At the moment, the advantages of staying together far outweighed the disadvantages.  He knew Ginny didn't see it that way.  He knew that feeling desired was critical to her overall satisfaction.  He was never in a position to understand that.  It wasn't Ginny's capacity to desire him that was the problem, and so he could never really understand how she felt.  But having just watched the beginning of the destruction of his life as he knew it, he couldn't help but feel they were rather making much ado about nothing.

Maybe he could change. He could try harder.  If he could completely divorce himself from his wretched gay side and focus his efforts entirely on finding pleasure in Ginny, perhaps they could save their relationship.  Perhaps their logical conclusion wasn't so much.  He'd been normal once.

A voice that sounded very much like Severus reminded him that he'd never been normal a day in his life.  He ignored that voice and held fast to a new wave of delusional optimism.  It had worked once.   Mind over matter.  It was a question of willpower.  It had to be.  It wasn't too late.  Molly and Arthur would know they were struggling, but Ron would only know of the experimentation.  Nothing irreparable had been done yet.  They could still save their marriage.

They had to.

"You look like you're about to kill someone," Ginny commented from the doorway.  She was dressed in tight-fitting jeans and a low-cut black shirt.  Her eyes were lined in black and her lips a shiny pink.  Harry looked at her and searched within himself to find some tickle of interest in the gentle curve of her breasts, in her rounded hips.  He felt nothing.  He had to try harder.  "Are you all right?"

"We can't do this, Ginny.  We have to work this out somehow," he said quietly.

Her expression turned from worried to wary.  She entered the room and slumped down into her own desk chair, facing Harry.  "We've been through this."

"I know," Harry said.  "But we sort of gave up trying, didn't we?  We resigned ourselves to this.  Maybe if we just ... simplified things, you know?  It's just sex, Gin.  Maybe we've complicated it so much that everything else got muddled up in it," Harry pleaded desperately. 

She listened with a blank expression.  "It's not just sex," she said gently.  "It's the basis of our problems, but ... It's about being a couple.  You and I are great friends.  Since we realised that we couldn't be a couple, we're better, right?  We're happier?"

Harry shook his head.  "I can change, Gin.  I changed before.  If I just-"

"You're gay, Harry.  And ignoring that isn't going to do us any favours."

"But I wasn't ... not entirely.  We just went too far that way.  If we can just go back-"

"For fuck's sake, Harry," she snapped.  "Why do you think I started with the Polyjuice in the first place?  Do you have any idea what it's like to watch your partner avoid you?  Avoid being alone with you out of fear that you might try and be intimate with him?"  She shook her head.  "Since we gave up, you don't work nearly as much as you used to.  You're not tired all the time.  You come to bed at night, and you don't run out of bed in the morning.  We talk.  We cuddle.  You're more present than you've been in years."

Harry blinked, wanting desperately to deny the accusations inherent in her words.  He remembered the dread he'd lived with.  The panic he'd felt whenever they found themselves alone, without the children around to act as a focal point for their attentions.  He could manage the interest necessary for coupling, so long as there was an act surrounding it.  Bondage or role play.  The simple intimacy he was now advocating had made him go cold with fear that he wouldn't be able to muster up the desire required to perform.

He remembered.  He also remembered a time, before Severus, before the kids, when things weren't like that.  When desire for this woman came as naturally as breathing.  He'd never really tried to give up on the idea of Severus.  He'd reasoned that his interest in Severus wasn't an interest in men, per se.  It was more personal than that.  Now that he knew what he was capable of becoming, surely he could prevent it.  He could go back and make an honest effort.  "I have to try," he said desperately. 

"Harry," Ginny sighed.  "You're scared.  I understand that.  There's a lot at stake.  I'm scared, too.  I know far too well what the media will do with this.  You're not alone.  You have to understand that.  You heard mum.  She adores you.  Dad adores you.  You didn't marry into this family, Harry.  You were already a part of it."  She stood and rounded the desks to sit on Harry's, facing him.  "I don't want to hate you.  If we delude ourselves into thinking that we can work this out, that's what will happen.  I'm just not enough for you," she said, holding out her hand to silence him.  "And you're not enough for me."

Harry sat listening to the pragmatic words, knowing they were true, but wishing down to the marrow of his bones that they weren't.  He wasn't enough.  He couldn't give her what she needed from him.  Their arguments always boiled down to that one incontrovertible truth.  She deserved better than what he could offer.

Harry dug deep to find the strength to power a small smile.  "You're right," he said, his voice cracking.  "I'm sorry.  I just panicked," he said.  He couldn't meet her eyes and focussed instead on the swirling contents of the penseive. 

"It's understandable," she answered, reaching out to stroke his cheek.  He leant in to the warmth of her touch.  "I don't know what got into me when I was talking to mum," she sighed.  "I've never been able to maintain a brave face in front of her.  It's just the magic of mums, I think."

Harry nodded.  "Sunday should be interesting," he said dully.

"Don't think about it now.  Let's go out.  We'll talk about how we're going to deal with this tomorrow, yeah?"

"I don't think I'm up for it anymore," Harry said quite honestly.  The scene he'd just witnessed effectively killed any desire to go out and pretend he was someone else.

Ginny gave him a look.  "Harry, we have a date."

"You'll do fine without me," Harry said.  In fact, she'd probably do better without having some bloke tagging along after her.

"We can go back to the Blue Note," she suggested.  "Remind you of the reason we're putting ourselves through this."

Harry shook his head.  "Not tonight, Gin."

She frowned irritably.  "You're going.  You can't just abandon me.  You're still legally obliged to be my escort," she said, her lips curling into a wry smile.

"I don't recall that being part of our vows," Harry said and then snorted. "Fine.  But not to the Blue Note.  And I don't feel like wearing a glamour, so we'll scan wherever we're going first."

She rolled her eyes, but agreed.

They went to a gay bar.  It had music and a small dance floor on which to dance, but it was slightly more intimate and less overwhelming than the larger clubs.  Harry had advocated going to a straight bar, but Ginny was interested in a little more than harmless flirtation tonight, and she still kept to the rules they'd established so long ago now.  Harry sat on a sofa in the corner of the bar, under the protection of the cloaking spell.  It wasn't the threat of recognition that worried him.  According to his telephone, there were no magical persons in the general area.  He was avoiding people. 

It worked.  Harry escorted Ginny just long enough for her to rediscover her inner social butterfly, and then found himself a seat for the evening.  Ginny gave up trying to pull him into conversations, gave up trying to extract his fun side and left him to his people watching.  From where he sat, he had a good view of the dance floor, but not much else.  To be fair, the dance floor was the most entertaining part to watch. 

He found himself disinterested, generally speaking.  He could objectively see that the men and women were more or less attractive, but the attraction was purely aesthetic.  He felt no desire.  This, in itself, was nothing new.  It simply contributed to his already grim mood.  He was trading his reasonably happy family life for a scene that held no interest for him whatsoever.

His eyes scanned the men on the dance floor, trying desperately to find something he could relate to.  Everyone he saw was so obviously gay that there was no mistaking them for anything else.  He simply wasn't that person.  Apart from an affinity for buggery, he had nothing in common with them.  He wasn't particularly effeminate.  He didn't have a well-developed sense of fashion.  And he couldn't dance.

He probably wasn't gay at all, really.  He merely had tendencies.  Just as Ginny had tendencies.  Incidental homosexuality, Hermione had called it.  Surely that wasn't enough to throw his life away over.

He sat there until Ginny came to him to inform him that they were moving on.  They, Harry assumed, was the mixed group of people to whom his wife had attached herself.  Harry nodded, meaning to make his excuses, but she cut off his attempt, pulling him up and leading him out the door.  Once they were outside, Ginny explained that they'd been invited to a party.  She offered introductions.  Harry paid as much attention to the people of the group as they paid him.

"I'll sit this one out," Harry tried.  "I'll see you tomorrow."

She looked about to argue, but stopped herself.  "Right.  Tomorrow, we talk, okay?"

Harry nodded and watched as the group stumbled off toward the tube station before turning into the alley behind the bar and apparating home.  Once there, he regretted his decision.  Alone and morose with only the swirling contents of his penseive to keep him company, Harry revisited Ginny's memory once more and decided to call it a night. 

He couldn't have been asleep long before his mobile rang.  It was a rare enough occasion that when the sound penetrated his dream, it melded seamlessly to the dreamscape.  He was talking to Ginny, but every time he opened his mouth, the ringing sound came instead of words.  By the time he realised what the sound was, the ringing stopped.  Harry sat up and went to the dresser to pick up the phone, finding that he'd missed two calls. 

It wasn't a number he recognised.  He debated letting it go, reasoning it was probably a wrong number.  Surely if there was an urgent need, someone would have sent a Patronus. Given that it was his work phone, he felt he should at least verify that there wasn't something else wrong. 

Deciding he'd likely lose sleep over the mystery, he pressed the call back button.  He was greeted by a lot of noise and music on the other end before a faint, male voice responded, "Is this Harry?"

"I can hardly hear you," Harry answered.

 A moment later, the noise was muffled and a clearer voice said, "Did I wake you?"

"It's two in the morning," Harry said irritably.  "Who is this?"

"Your wife tells me you're trying to sneak back into the closet," the man said in a voice that was now vaguely familiar.  His body responded before his mind could identify the voice.

"Haytham?" Harry said weakly.

A low chuckle.  "Hello, angel."

Harry sat heavily on the bed, holding the phone to his ear.  "You're with Ginny?" he asked.

"I met her at a party.  She was kind enough to give me your number."

"Did she make you call?" Harry said, rubbing his forehead.

"Make me?"  The voice sounded amused.  In Harry's memory, Haytham's voice always sounded amused.  It went with the look in his eye and that grin that was powered with subtext.

Harry sighed.  "She did, didn't she?  I'm sorry.  She's ... incredibly annoying."  The man's greeting words came back to him now.  Ginny had clearly told the man about the night's discussion.  Some logical part of him could see the intent behind that.  She was worried for him.  At two in the morning, Harry's logic was no match for his indignation.

"She's lovely," Haytham argued.  "I'm calling to invite you to breakfast," the man said.

"It's two in the morning," Harry reminded him with a silly grin that stretched uncontrollably over his face.

"Is it?  I suppose it's a bit early.  What will we do until then?"

Harry laughed lightly, a wave of arousal rushing through him born of sensory memory.  He shook his head, trying to recall the reasons he wasn't out in the first place.  "Haytham – things are a bit... weird at the moment," he said, trying to convince his libido to behave.

"You can tell me all about it when you get here.  I'll even pilfer some tea from the club," Haytham said.  "Where are you?  I'll send a taxi."

Harry snorted at the idea of a taxi trying to find Diagon Alley.  He groaned.  "I'm not far from you," Harry said.  "I can be there in fifteen minutes."

"Excellent.  Come to the back.  I'll wait for you there."

"All right.  Is Ginny with you?"

"I left her at the party about an hour ago."

"All right.  I'll see you soon," Harry said.

"I'm looking forward to it."

Harry let the phone drop to the bed and sat staring into the darkness of his bedroom a moment.  He felt a small pang of annoyance toward Ginny for interfering, but it was nothing to the thrill of excitement that made him feel suddenly awake, indeed.  He took the phone up again to dial Ginny's number, without much hope that she'd answer or even realise her phone was ringing.  For all it could be a useful tool, the mobile phone for Ginny was just something else to carry around.  Harry had been threatening to put an alerting spell on her to tweak her nipples every time it rang.

To his surprise, she answered.  "He called."

"It's two in the morning," Harry said in an irritated tone.

"You're welcome," she said, laughing.


"Think of it as fate," she advised.  "Just when you were ready to give it all up, Fate sent you a reminder of why you can't do that."

Harry sighed.  "Changing your name, are you?" 

She laughed.  "I'm here to help."

"You coming home?"

"Probably.  Are you going to be there when I get in?"

"Do you want me to be?" Harry asked tentatively.

"Is that a trick question?"

"I've been invited to breakfast."

Her laugh exploded through the phone.  Harry had to take it away from his ear lest it pierce his eardrum.  "You can tell me all about it at lunch.  Have fun, Harry."

"Good night."


Harry walked behind the club, his footsteps clashing with the rhythmic low thudding that seeped through the walls of the club and out into the alley.  After having tried and discarded a number of clothes as being too ostentatious, too casual, or too frumpy, he'd settled on a pair of grey trousers and a plain white t-shirt under a bottle-green jumper.  He'd never felt more foolish in his entire life, but he was showered, his teeth were brushed and his hair... Well, Ginny always assured him that the rolled-out-of-bed look was good on him.

His heart pounded nervously as he made his way to the plain green door.  It opened as he approached, revealing a man in dark trousers with a red shirt that peaked out of a black waistcoat.  Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and offered a wry grin.  "Hullo," he greeted.

"Good morning," Haytham offered, opening the door wide enough to let Harry pass, with a significant amount of brushing.  The door closed behind them with a loud slam that echoed through the concrete entryway.  With a light touch to Harry's back, Haytham escorted him to the lift and opened the door.

"So, you met Ginny," Harry said, trying to make conversation to keep himself from throwing the man against the wall and snogging him soundly.  It was rather ridiculous, really, as that was precisely what he was there to do.  And they both knew that.

"She introduced herself," Haytham said.  "As you can imagine, it's a bit disconcerting to be approached by the wife of a man you've slept with," he said with a teasing grin.  "Luckily for me, you didn't exaggerate her openness."

Harry laughed.  "Sorry.  I don't know why she approached you at all," he said, feeling his face go hot.

Haytham ran his fingers through Harry's hair.  "I'm not sorry," he said as the lift came to a halt.  He pushed through the door.  "I'd wondered what happened to you," he added as he opened the door to his flat.  He pulled off his shoes and set them beside a pair of trainers outside his door.  Harry followed suit.

"Should I apologise for not calling?" Harry asked with a contrite smile.

Haytham laughed.  "Only if you're sorry," Haytham responded.  "I don't expect an apology.  I admit I'd anticipated seeing you again when I leant you my clothes."

"I sent them back.  Did you get them?" Harry said, following the other man into a familiar flat. 

The man gave him an exasperated look.  "I got them," he answered.  He stepped forward to push Harry's jacket from his shoulders.  "When I asked where you were tonight, your wife told me you were at home, trying to convince yourself you are straight," Haytham said, reaching behind Harry to hang his coat by a hook.

Harry's gaze hardened, his mouth formed a grim line.  "She –" He took a deep breath and shook his head.  "I don't want to talk about it," Harry said flatly.

"Oh, dear.  It's true, then?"

Harry suddenly regretted his decision to come.  "Is that why I'm here?  Did she put you up to this?" he asked, stepping away from the man.

Haytham's eyes narrowed slightly.  He shook his head.  "I asked her to tell you to call me.  She gave me your number, suggesting you might have lost mine."  He tilted his head.  "Only you can explain why you're here." 

Harry closed his eyes.  "Sorry," he said, feeling a right prat.  "I told you on the phone, things are a bit weird at the moment."

"Come and have a drink," Haytham said, turning and walking toward the kitchen.  "Rum and Coke, right?"

Harry followed and confirmed his drink of choice.  "Ginny told her mum about me today," he said, feeling he owed the man some sort of explanation. 

"Ah," Haytham said.  "Now, I see.  And your parents?"

"They died when I was a kid.  I grew up with my aunt and uncle, although we weren't close.  I haven't had any contact with them since I left home," he explained.  "Ginny's parents have pretty much taken care of me since I was twelve," he added, to illustrate the complexity of the mess he was in.

"Did she take it badly?" Haytham asked, his expression sympathetic as he handed Harry his drink.  Harry remembered that Haytham's own family had disowned him.

"No.  Not really," he said.  "But..."  He didn't know how to finish the thought.  He shook his head and drank.

"You don't want to disappoint them," Haytham offered.

"Yeah.  I suppose so.  It's complicated."

"When I came out, my father threatened to kill me," Haytham said.  "My mother sat crying and begging me to take it back.  I have two sisters and a brother with whom I've not spoken in ten years.  I'm considered dead now," Haytham said.  He chased his admission with a drink from his own glass. 

"God," Harry said, shaking his head.  "That must have been hard for you."

"It was, although I expected it.  There was never any question that they would accept it.  When I came out, I knew that I'd be on my own."

"You've still not heard from them.  Not even your mother?"

Haytham shook his head.  "My family have very clear ideas on homosexuality.  I thought perhaps I'd hear from my older sister, but no.  I have a very good network of friends, though.  I've built up my own family, and I don't need people in my life who can't accept me for who I am." 

"My best friend is Ginny's brother.  My other best friend is Ginny's brother's wife," he said with a wry smile.  "She knows.  I talked to her this morning.  I asked her to sort of hint to Ron that I might be ... not as straight as was initially thought."  He shook his head.  "I have no idea how he's going to take it when he finally gets the whole story.  He's insanely protective of Ginny."

Haytham snorted.  "She doesn't seem the sort who needs protecting," he noted.

"No," Harry said.  "But he's not really worked that out yet.  Hermione, his wife, says that he's convinced himself that our kids are the product of immaculate conception."

"Well, you are an angel," Haytham said with a smirk.

Harry felt the heat rise to his face.  He lowered his eyes.

"So, you've panicked and decided that you could be straight if you really put your mind to it, have you?"

Harry looked up in surprise.  Haytham grinned.  "We all go through it.  Next you'll be telling yourself that sleeping with me doesn't make you gay.  It's just sex, right?"

Harry snorted.  "Sleeping with you doesn't necessarily make me gay.  Not being able to sleep with Ginny is a bit harder to rationalise," he said darkly.  He scrubbed his face with his hands.

"How long's it been?" Haytham asked curiously. 

"Nearly two years, I think.  I mean since we've had proper sex," he added quickly when Haytham's eyes widened.  "We have a mutual appreciation for kink that gets us through," Harry explained.   "She's not exactly neglected."  The strangeness of talking to this man about his sex life with his wife hit Harry with a sudden wave of embarrassment.  "God, I'm sorry.  Too much information, right?"

Haytham laughed.  "I've never met anyone like you two.  I find it fascinating."

Harry thought the man couldn't possibly realise on how many levels his statement was true.  "We're unique," Harry said vaguely.  "We're perfect together in every aspect but one."

"It's a rather important aspect, I should think," Haytham pointed out.

"Is it?" Harry said doubtfully.  "I'm not sure.  I never used to have problems ... performing.  It's just... I have this weird psychological block.  I can get excited by getting her off, but the moment she comes anywhere near me ... nothing.  If I can just work out why ..."

"You're gay."

"But I wasn't always," Harry insisted.

"You had no performance issues with me," Haytham pointed out.  "How long has it been since you didn't have to think of a bloke when you were making love to your wife?"

Harry's surprise at the question showed on his face.  How long?  Not since before the last time he was with Severus, he knew for certain.  Apart from when Ginny was in a male body.  But surely not before that.  There may have been a few times, when they were playing out a scene or particularly drunk.  Harry knew the answer to the question, but didn't want to admit to it.  It was part of his routine preparation for the act.  His way of getting into the mood, so to speak.

It had been since the first time he slept with Severus.

Haytham rounded the counter and cupped Harry's face with his hands.  "You'll accept it eventually," he said quietly.  "As soon as you stop asking yourself why you can't just be normal."

Harry snorted bitterly and leant back against the counter.  He'd been asking himself that question his whole life.  He couldn't imagine ever stopping.  "I thought I had accepted it," he said, looking up into the other man's eyes.  "I suppose it's the prospect of losing everything I care about that has made me rethink things," he added.

"Coming out is a continual process," Haytham said sagely.  "After you go through everyone you know, you'll move on to everyone you meet.  We live in a world founded on traditional relationships.  Eventually you'll come to realise that those who cannot accept you as a gay man were not worth holding onto in the first place."

"It isn't me I'm worried about."  He'd long ago stopped caring what the general public thought of him.  That impulse had been burnt away in his fifth year.

"Your kids?"

Harry nodded.  He wished he could explain everything.  This man had no idea what it meant to be Harry Potter.  And Harry couldn't tell him without breaking international law.  He suddenly had a new appreciation for Severus' situation.

"They'll cope.  Normally what harms the kids most is the rift between the parents.  They're lucky you and your wife are so ..."

"Weird?" Harry offered as the man searched for an appropriate word.

"Pragmatic," Haytham grinned.

"Thanks," Harry said.  He didn't feel any more confident about his situation, but it was nice to talk to someone who wasn't Ginny.  Someone whose response wouldn't take weeks or months to get back to him.  "And sorry.  I don't suppose you intended to spend the night counselling me," he said with a contrite smile.

"On the contrary," Haytham said with a smirk, "I had every intention on spending the night reminding you why you are indubitably, undeniably, and irredeemably gay."  He leant in until his nose touched Harry's.  "I can think of no worthier way to spend my time."

The proximity of the man made Harry's heart stop momentarily and then beat faster to catch up.  "I've been told I'm rather hard-headed.  It might take awhile," Harry said with a grin. 

"Fantastic," Haytham breathed, and pressed his mouth to Harry's.  They stood frozen one long moment, exchanging breaths and relishing the contact.  Harry tilted his head, lips parting to begin again.  The kiss was slow to progress.  Ages passed before Haytham's tongue tapped against Harry's lips, which parted to admit it. 

It didn't take long before the anxiety of the day melted away, and the world boiled down to the rough feel of Haytham's chin scraping against his own, hands sliding powerfully down Harry's sides, the wetness of the tongue slipping in and out of his mouth, engaged in a peculiar game of tag.  When Haytham finally pulled away to look at Harry, there was no trace of laughter in his suddenly intense gaze.

Harry scraped his teeth over his bottom lip and stared back.  He couldn't say what drove him to do it, apart from the sudden desire to know what powered that regard.  Harry slipped inside the man's mind to see a picture of himself staring back with impossibly clear green eyes, he saw a vision of himself in gold with wings outstretched, a picture of an older man shouting in rage at a younger version of Haytham, holding him by the lapels and shaking him violently, a picture of two boys snogging in what looked to be a dormitory.  Harry slipped back out, blinking away the stolen images.

Haytham closed his eyes and gave a quick shake of his head before laughing.  "I must have drunk more than I thought," he joked, and took Harry's hand to pull him toward the bedroom, while Harry chastised himself for the careless invasion of privacy.  "Your eyes are as green as I remembered," he noted.  "I got lost for a moment," he said with a wry grin.

Harry laughed nervously and made a silent promise never to do that again.  As he got to the bedroom, he lifted his jumper and t-shirt over his head and watched as the man began on the buttons of his waistcoat.  He stepped forward when the waistcoat was shrugged off to collaborate on getting through the buttons of the shirt.  "I hate buttons," he noted.

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Haytham said dryly.

As Haytham worked to loosen the cuffs, Harry explored the man's torso, bestowing open-mouthed kisses over the man's chest.  His hands moved to undo Haytham's belt and trousers.  Harry scraped his teeth over the man's nipple, taking the hitch of breath as encouragement.  Haytham's fingers curled under Harry's chin and pulled him up for a kiss.  This one was more demanding and urgent than the first.  Both men hurriedly removed what remained of their clothing before Harry turned the other man and pushed him back toward the bed.

"Tell me what you want," Haytham said, his hands on Harry's naked hips, thumbs stroking over the bone there.

Harry grinned and met the man's eyes.  "I want you to fuck me. Hard.  I want it to hurt, and I want you to bite me when I come."

Haytham's eyes widened.  He laughed and leant in to offer an experimental nip to Harry's lips.  "That's very specific, Harry."

Harry laughed sheepishly.  "I have very specific tastes, Haytham."



Haytham's fingers moved to Harry's nipples and, with a question in his eyes, he twisted gently.  "Harder," Harry breathed, reaching between them to slide his fingers over the other man's smooth prick.  His breath caught when his demands were met.  His cock twitched.

"Like that?"

"Good start."

"What about you?  What do you like?"  Harry lifted his eyes.

Haytham smirked.  "I like you.  I like sex.  But I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain," he said, laughing.

"I'll keep that in mind," Harry said solemnly.  "No nipple clamps for you."

Haytham shook his head.  "No nipple clamps," he agreed, and then smacked Harry on the arse to urge him to crawl into bed while he pulled the necessities from the bedside drawer.  Harry settled on the bed and Haytham crawled in after him, positioning himself between Harry's legs.  He rested his elbows above Harry's shoulders and looked down at him with a bemused expression.  "Nipple clamps?"

Harry laughed and ran his fingers down the man's back, encoding the contours of the tight muscles.  "They're not for everyone," he said wisely. "But there are different kinds of pain.  Maybe you've not experienced the right kind at the right moment," Harry offered.  "Is that why you don't bottom?" he asked curiously.

"It's just a preference," Haytham said.  "I've done it – not for many years, but I've done it."

"When you meet someone, how do you know that their preferences won't clash with your own?" Harry asked.

Haytham smiled.  "You don't always.  Most of the time, the type of person you're attracted to will tend to complement you.  Sometimes there are surprises, but not often," Haytham said.  "You become better at guessing with experience," the man assured him.

Harry smiled and lifted his head to kiss the man again.  "You're very experienced," he whispered against the man's lips.  Haytham shifted his hips to press his erection beside Harry's. 

"I've had my fair share of partners," Haytham responded, moving now to scrape his teeth over Harry's jaw.  "Probably your fair share as well," he amended before pulling back to smile down at him. "But I'm always careful," he said seriously.  "What about you?  Have you ... expanded?"

"Expanded?" Harry laughed.  "No," he admitted.  "I've had a few largely uninspiring snogs since January," he explained.

Haytham looked at him a moment and then shook his head.  "Dunno how you do it," he muttered before sliding down to take Harry's left nipple between his teeth, tongue flicking over the tip as he tugged at it.  Any explanation Harry could give died in a small whimper.  His fingers curled into the man's hair, which crunched faintly in his grip.

"God, just like that," he breathed, savouring the spike of pain that fed his arousal.  Encouraged by Harry's response, Haytham went over to treat the other to the same abuse.  Harry's erection was trapped under the weight of the man's torso, and Harry took full advantage of it, canting his hips up against the man.  Haytham caught on quickly, leaving a faint trail of bite marks down Harry's stomach as he made his way toward Harry's cock.  Harry spread his legs to accommodate Haytham's shoulders as the man settled down to take first one ball and then the other into his mouth, suckling gently, humming faintly to add an extra element of sensation.

A spit-slicked finger reached back and entered without ceremony, causing Harry to call out his approval.  He opened his eyes to see Haytham's watching him from below.  The man held his gaze as he rolled back the foreskin and slid his tongue over the head of Harry's prick.  Harry bit his lip as he watched the other man bare his teeth to scrape gently over the sensitized tip.  At the same time, Haytham's reaching finger found its target.

Harry's eyes rolled up, his head falling back to the pillow.  The assault had begun, and he was looking forward to the final surrender.  As a second finger was added, his cock was teased with a perfect play of tongue and lips with the welcome complement of teeth dragging gently over the length.  He couldn't say then what made the difference.  Over the years, Ginny got to know what he liked and had once been able to satisfy him in this way.  Whether it was the addition of the rough stubble, or the sure, hard grip over him, he didn't know. 

He didn't particularly care just now.  His arse felt full and burnt faintly with the promise of what was to come.  His cock stood resolutely at attention.  In his belly, desire and arousal coiled tightly, sending out waves of electric shivers that made every inch of him yearn to be touched.  Cruelly, gently, it was no matter. 

Harry pulled the man up by his hair to bestow a demanding kiss.  They both knew why he was here, and it was time to put an end to the teasing.  "Fuck me," he commanded and sat up, pushing the man back so that he could flip over onto his knees.  He squeezed his prick, bidding it to wait a moment longer as he heard the sound of the packet being opened, the click of the cap from the lube.  Harry's hands reached out to hold the wall behind Haytham's bed, his legs opening and arse arching back as he felt the man close in behind him.


"Please," Harry begged, desperately needing to feel the bittersweet marriage of pleasure and pain.  It had been too long.  The last time he'd been with this man, they'd spent the time in gentle exploration.  It had been a cautious and reserved introduction to one another's body.  It had been nice.  Pleasurable.  But far from satisfying.

He could feel Haytham's prick slide down the cleft of his arse and position itself expertly for penetration.  It pressed in slightly, just enough to widen the tight aperture.  Haytham's fingers curled around Harry's hip bone.  There was a moment's hesitation.  Harry offered a plaintive moan, pressing back insistently.  His plea was answered when he was pulled forcefully back, Haytham's hips slamming forward to press past the tight ring.  Haytham's voice joined his own in celebration.

Both men panted – Harry, in an effort to breathe past the pain; Haytham to adapt to the sudden death-grip over his cock.  Haytham's arms curled up around Harry's chest, pulling Harry tightly against him.  Harry gasped as the man moved suddenly deeper.

"You love this," Haytham whispered in Harry's ear.

Harry laughed weakly.  "You think?"

Haytham  twisted Harry's nipple, causing Harry's body to lurch from the pain.  Harry groaned, circling his hips to complete the sensation. Haytham's hand closed over Harry's cock.  "You're so hard.  Tight.  Eager." His hips drew back, before spearing forward again.

"Haytham," Harry breathed.  He needed more.  Faster.  Harder.

"You need this, Harry," the man whispered into his neck, nipping the skin at the base.  A small pinch of pain to add to the building desperation. 

Harry grinned, bucking back against the man, but wanting so much more.  His nipple was twisted again.  "I need it," Harry agreed.  "Now.  Please."

Haytham's hands slid down to rest at Harry's hips.  Harry bent forward again, bracing himself against the wall.  Haytham pulled back and pressed inside, teasingly slow, chuckling as Harry gave a growl of frustration.  When he pulled back again, Harry slammed his hips back fiercely, setting the tone for what was to follow.  Haytham's fingers dug into his skin.  One of Harry's hands stole down to stroke his cock as finally (Finally!), the man gave into his pleas.

It was rough and hard and inelegant.  All teasing and pretence was cast aside as the two men gave into carnal need, basic and savage.  The air was thick with the sounds of their desire.  The headboard banged against the wall, the bedsprings creaked.  The rush of expelled breaths and careless keening, the loud slap of flesh against flesh filled the room.  Harry's hand worked feverishly to bring himself to the brink.  He delayed the inevitable until he could hear Haytham come to meet him there, and at last, he could hold on no longer.

"I'm coming," he warned roughly and was rewarded by a firm, painful bite to the back of his neck that sent him soaring into oblivion with a strangled shout.  Judging by the strained moan and the way the man slammed inside him, stiff and throbbing, Haytham fell along with him.  When his neck was released, Harry bent forward to press his forehead against the cool wall, breathing raggedly.  Haytham's forehead rested between Harry's shoulder blades, his breath hot and moist against Harry's skin.

Harry's palm smoothed the come he'd managed to capture over his flagging erection.  Haytham's lips pressed to his back and then kissed a trail up his spine.  "You've made a mess of my pillows," the man teased.

Harry looked down to see the dark spots on the deep red fabric.  "Sorry," he laughed.

With another kiss to his neck, Haytham pulled away, climbing off the bed and going to the bathroom.  Harry lamented the restrictions on magic as he followed.  He watched the man drop the condom into the bin and then walk to the basin to wash himself.  Harry came up behind him, reaching around to rinse his hands in the warm water.  Haytham turned to face him, cloth in hand.  "Still think you can be straight?" he asked with an amused smile.

Harry groaned and leant his head against the man's shoulder.  "I can't think much of anything just now," he said.  A warm cloth swept over his backside. 

"It's bruising," Haytham remarked, kissing the welt left from the bite.

Harry hummed happily and straightened up.  "Thank you," he said.  "I needed that."

"A bruise?" Haytham grinned.

Harry rolled his eyes and stepped to the man's side to rinse his cock.  He shut the water off and took the towel that was offered to him.  Clean and dry, the two men returned to bed.  Haytham took a moment to flip the pillows over and wipe his headboard with a tissue from his bedside. 

Harry gave a sheepish smile. "I tried to catch as much as possible."

Haytham tossed the tissue on the bedside table.  He leant in to kiss the other man.  "I assure you, it's not the first time," he said with a smirk.  "It was well worth a few stains."  He gave Harry a considering look and then shook his head.


"Nine months?"

"Hm," Harry grunted.


Harry snorted.  "Dunno.  I told you I'm not very good with strangers."

"You managed with me.  I assumed once you'd got past that hurdle, you'd continue on."

Harry laughed.  "You were different," he said, lowering his eyes.  "I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  That's really rare.  Normally, I'm pretty ambivalent."

A broad smile spread across the other man's face.  He lowered his eyes in a brilliant parody of modesty.  "You could have called," he chided gently.

Harry sighed.  "I could have done," he agreed.  "I thought about it."  He glanced over to meet the man's eyes.  "A lot.  That's the problem.  It's too tempting."

"You can't tell me you're worried about upsetting Ginny," Haytham said. 

"Not upsetting her, no.  She's really great about the whole thing.  But she's also really good at not becoming emotionally involved," he explained.

"Ah," Haytham said.  "And this is a problem for you?"

Harry gave the man a look.  "Don't worry.  I'm not quite ready to make any grand declarations," he said.  "The truth is that I'm not sure.  I've never really done this before.  The two other people I've been with I'd known most of my life.  With Gin, love came naturally.  With Sev ... well.  Our relationship was always extremely emotional." 

"You fell in love with him?"

Harry nodded and then laughed.  "The first night we were together ... It was New Year's Eve eleven years ago.  He told me he didn't want to do anything with me because I was an emotional wreck – which was fair enough.  He worried I'd grow too attached.  He was right."  Harry laughed.  "But I wasn't the only one devastated when Ginny got pregnant."

"I think it's natural to get attached to your first," Haytham said.


Haytham nodded.  "My first was a boy I met at Uni.  Michael.  I adored him."

"What happened?"

"We dated for eight months, and then I cheated on him."  Haytham grinned.  "Monogamy has never been my strong suit," he said.

"So you don't date?"

Haytham laughed.  "It's been known to happen.  The longest I've ever lasted was about three years.  But in this scene, I'm by no means an anomaly.  There's an old joke:  What do gay men do on a second date?" 

Harry's eyebrows raised in question.

"What second date?" Haytham smirked.  " Women tend to be better at it than men."

Harry snorted.  "So you just ... shag someone new every night?"

Haytham gave him a look.  "No," he said defensively.  "As a general rule, I stay clear of men from the club.  There have been exceptions," Haytham gestured at Harry.  "But few.  I have a collection of men I turn to when the need strikes."

Harry laughed.  "Your own personal harem," he said dryly.

"Something like that.  Every now and again, I have a go at something more meaningful, but I invariably stray."

"How long has it been?" Harry asked.

"About a year and a half.  We'd been together for a year or so.  It got messy.  I resolved not to do it again," he said.  "Until next time," he added with a wry smile.

Harry shook his head.  "It sounds lonely," he noted. 

Haytham laughed.  "I'm not lonely," he insisted.  "I have a great life.  The headiness of new love is a beautiful thing, but it's fleeting and invariably ends badly."

Harry had heard these words before.  "God, you sound like Severus," he laughed.  "But well, even he succumbed eventually."

"Have you met his partner?"

Harry grunted.  "David.  Yeah, we met a few years back.  He's very ... nice."

Haytham exploded with laughter.  "You might want to work on the sincerity," he said.

Harry grinned.  "I hate him, but he is very nice.  And he's still with Severus after all these years, so I reckon he probably deserves him.  He has the patience of a saint," Harry said wryly.

"Why do you say that?"

"Severus is a bastard.  He's pig-headed and doesn't handle conflict at all well.  He's mellowed a bit since I met him, but he's by no means a kind man."

"He sounds charming," Haytham said with a puzzled expression.

"I don't think anyone would describe him as charming," Harry answered.  "Irritable, scathing, spiteful, perhaps.  It takes a particular sort of person to see past that.  It took me years before I could find anything good in him.  He hides it very well."

"You mentioned you didn't get on when you were at school."

Harry nodded.  "He had been at school with my parents," Harry explained.  "My father and my godfather were a bit cruel to him.  As I look just like my dad, the grudge carried on to the next generation."

"When did your parents die?"

"I was a year old," Harry answered.

"How did it happen?"

Harry considered giving the car accident story, but rejected it immediately.  "They were murdered," he said. 

"Bloody hell," Haytham breathed.  "I'm sorry."

Harry shook his head.  "It was a long time ago."

"Did they ever find the person who did it?"

"Eventually," he said quietly.  His hand moved unconsciously to his forehead. 

"Was there a reason?  Or was it just...random?"

Harry hesitated a moment.  "It was political," he said carefully.  "It's sort of complicated."

"So, you went to live with your aunt and uncle," the man continued, piecing the information together.  "And you didn't get on?"

Harry snorted.  "They took care of me, but not gladly.  My aunt and my mum had fallen out years before.  They had a young son of their own, and I was ... an unwelcome burden, I suppose."

Haytham's frowned.  "You were one," he said disgusted.  "Did they treat you badly?"

Harry shrugged.  "Things got better when I went to school," he said.  "I only had to spend a few weeks a year with them in the summers.  The rest of the time I spent with Ginny's family.  And they were kind to me."

Haytham looked at him a long moment before offering a sympathetic smile.  "I suppose I understand your attachment issues," he said.  "It doesn't sound like you had much love growing up."

The remark took Harry by surprise.  "It got better when I went to school," he insisted.  It was the truth, if an inherently flawed sort of truth.  He'd been loved.  By Sirius (dead).  Remus (dead).  Dumbledore ...  The Weasleys were his constant, and they were still around – for now.  Severus loved him – in his way.  He frowned, suddenly dismayed with the idea of being thought of as a whore for affection.    Even more by the idea that it was an incredibly perceptive insight.  One worthy of Severus.

"What about your godfather?"

Harry blinked, trying to recall mentioning Sirius at all.  "I ... He wasn't really around when I was growing up," he said.  "I met him when I was thirteen.  He ..."  Harry offered a hopeless little smile.  "He died," he said almost apologetically.  "Fucking hell," he laughed.  "Remind me not to talk about my life.  It sounds ridiculously tragic."  He wasn't used to having to explain himself like this.  The entire Wizarding world had known more about his life than he did, and so he'd never had to answer questions.  He suddenly felt pleased that he couldn't give the whole story, as he wasn't certain he could hold the self-pity at bay.

 Haytham stared at him a long moment before nodding.  "I have to say I wouldn't like to be you," he said.  "On the bright side, it makes my story sound much less terrible."

Harry shook his head.  "I wouldn't say that," he said.  "My parents are dead, and that's horrible, yeah.  But I can't imagine what it would be like to be rejected by those who are supposed to love you unconditionally."

Haytham smiled, before leaning in to kiss him.  "You're an amazing person, Harry.  I really hope things work out for you."

"Me too," Harry whispered, feeling his face go hot from the compliment.  "Thanks."

Haytham's eyes closed again as he pulled Harry toward him, curling his hand behind Harry's head.  The kiss was too soft and too tender, and Harry felt his heart pick up a panicked rhythm, even as his mouth moved languidly along with the other man's.  Haytham slid down to lie against the pillow, bringing Harry down with him.  Haytham's leg slid forward, insinuating itself between Harry's.  His hand trailed lightly down Harry's back.

The man pulled away, relaxing down to the pillow as he looked at Harry.  "I hate to think what this scene will do to you," he said softly.

Harry snorted quietly.  "I'm a big boy, Haytham.  I've survived worse than a broken heart," he said flatly.

"Still," Haytham said with a smile.  "You tired?"

Harry nodded.  A yawn overtook him as though inspired by the idea of sleep.  "I was woken up at an ungodly hour," he said with a grin.

"Poor you," Haytham answered blandly.  "Do you need a toothbrush?"

Harry shook his head.  "I've cleaned my teeth twice tonight.  I think I'm set.  I've come prepared this time," he said.

"All right.  I'll be back."  He darted forward to kiss him again before going to the bathroom.

Harry closed his eyes and listened to the water running.  His arse ached dully, and his body felt pleasantly spent and relaxed.  The anxiety and fear that had stirred earlier that evening still sat heavily within him, but the edges had been rounded and smoothed.  It was something he'd address when the time came.  For the moment, he let his mind fill with images of sex in all its raw honesty. 

Harry felt the mattress dip next to him.  A duvet was brought up to cover his shoulders as Haytham settled next to him. Chilled, moist hands slid down his side to rest on his hip.  Minty breath clouded under his nose, and Harry smiled to see the dark eyes staring at him.  "Do you have to be up early?"

"No," he whispered.  "I told Ginny I'd see her for lunch."

"Good night, angel," the man said with a smirk.  He reached to switch the lamp off.



He dreamt of Severus.  More specifically, he dreamt of an elusive presence.  He searched for him, interrogating people as to his whereabouts.  Everywhere he went, Severus had just left.  The dream was fraught with desperation and futility that lingered like a dark cloud as he came to consciousness.  His heart ached with an unidentifiable longing.

He took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes to rid himself of the memory.  He gradually became aware of the body pressed behind him, and then identified that body as decidedly male before recalling where he was.  He twisted around to confirm the identity of the man behind him before relaxing back down to the pillow.

He indulged a moment's guilt for dreaming of Severus while sleeping in another man's bed.  He felt relatively certain that Severus would be pleased by that, and he snorted softly to himself.  Haytham's arm slipped around him, the man's hips moving forward to press an erection more firmly into the cleft of Harry's arse.  Harry reached back to lay his hand on the other man's hip.

Haytham gave a sleepy groan before pressing a kiss to the back of Harry's neck, inciting shivers that cascaded down Harry's spine, dislodging some of the funk he'd woken up in.  Haytham's hand slid down his chest to wrap around his cock.  Harry's leg moved forward to make way for the other man's.  Haytham's breath was hot and wet against his ear as he rocked his cock between Harry's cheeks.  "You have such a beautiful arse," the man breathed, flexing his hips forward to meet Harry's backward thrust.  Harry tilted his hips back, poising his hole against the slick head, thoughtlessly seeking sensation.

Haytham gasped as Harry bore down, bringing the man just inside.  The hand fled from his cock to fly to his hips, stilling them.  Harry gave a desperate groan.  Haytham took a series of deep breaths, the tip of his cock just squeezing inside the ring.  "Fuck," Haytham cursed on a whisper before pulling his hips out of reach.  Harry bit back a disappointed moan.

"Naughty boy," Haytham chastised before giving a punishing bite to Harry's neck.  The man rolled away, and Harry gave a small whimper,toying with the idea of Confunding him ... only a little. He twisted around to blink sleepily at man, watching him roll the condom over his cock.  Haytham's eyes found Harry's as he spread a generous dollop of lube over the shaft.  "You nearly made me forget myself," he said with a sultry smile before sliding back to lay behind him.

Harry grinned.  "Sorry," he said, unable to appear sorry at all.  He raised his leg, arching back in anticipation.

"As your gay mentor, I feel compelled to lecture you on the importance of safe sex."

Harry groaned plaintively and reached back to urge the man closer.  "Fuck me first," he said. "Lecture later."

Haytham laughed quietly but gave in, sliding the slick tip over Harry's entrance.  Harry pushed back against it.  The tip popped past the ring, and both men gasped in unison.  Haytham slowly rocked himself forward until his hips were flush with Harry's arse, his erection reaching deep inside.  Haytham's hand returned to Harry's cock, stroking it expertly.  Harry reached back to hold the man next to him as he moved in minute circles simply enjoying the feeling of being filled, of the head teasing the walls of his arse.  When Haytham's hips moved back, Harry's hands gripped them to keep them still.  "Don't move," he breathed.

When he felt the man relax and submit, Harry continued rocking, fucking himself in small, slow movements.  He angled his hips just enough to allow the tip to prod the pleasure button inside him.  Haytham's grip over his erection was steady, allowing Harry to push forward into his hand and back against his prick.  The man's breathing came in slow ragged waves.  Every breath Harry drew was expelled whenever his prostate was scraped past.  Suddenly, Haytham's control broke as he slammed forward, causing them both to call out. 

Harry was pushed forward, Haytham coming up to drape himself over him.  Harry pulled a knee up to allow enough room to reach down and take himself in hand as Haytham picked up a punishing rhythm.  Haytham's arm snaked around and up over Harry's chest to curl his hand around Harry's shoulder, bringing him down with every forward thrust.  The position was close and deep, and soon, Harry was soaring on a wave of pleasure that broke spectacularly.  Harry pressed his forehead to the mattress, driving his hips until Haytham followed him.  The man's embrace was crushing as orgasm took him.  His chin dug painfully into Harry's shoulder, his body jerking with the aftershocks.

"Fucking hell," Haytham breathed.

"Hm," Harry agreed breathlessly, reaching back to curl his hand around the back of Haytham's head.  Haytham rose up enough to let Harry straighten his legs before collapsing on top of him, pinning him to the bed.  "I told you not to move," Harry said, grinning against the sheets.

"I'm rubbish at doing what I'm told," Haytham laughed.  He placed a series of kisses along Harry's shoulder, ending his trail at the corner of Harry's mouth.

"We'll have to work on that," Harry sighed, closing his eyes.

"Does that mean you're coming back?"

Harry laughed.  "Does that mean you want me to?"  He cracked an eye open.

"Maybe," Haytham said.

Harry grinned stupidly when Haytham's fingers weaved through his own.  His chest felt alive with winged creatures, flitting about chaotically.  Haytham shifted to lie facing him, kissing him deeply until Harry's head was as giddy as his chest.  The man pulled away and smiled at him. "Shall I make you breakfast?"

"All right," Harry agreed.

The man reached up to push Harry's hair back and kissed him again before scrambling off the bed and disappearing into the bathroom.  Harry pushed himself up to a sitting position, unable to wipe the smile off his face.  Some part of his brain whispered warnings in regards to the elation he felt, but Harry refused to pay it heed just at the moment.  Reality would come crashing in all too soon.  He clung to the morning, which seemed bright despite the shroud of grey sky he could see out the window.

After Harry got cleaned up, he joined the other man in the kitchen where he stood in his bathrobe, chopping fruit.  On the table, the man had lain out cereals and yoghurt.  "I could cook something if you'd prefer?"

Harry shook his head.  "It's perfect," he answered, going over to sit in a chair.  Haytham placed a mug with a tea bag inside.  "Bless you," Harry sighed.

Haytham sat in front of him, a mug of milky coffee in his hand.  Harry stirred the tea bag around the water.  "What time do you normally wake up?" he asked.

"Noon or so.  I keep late nights."

Harry yawned and laughed.  "So I noticed.  Life doesn't start until two, eh?"

"Something like that," Haytham agreed.  "It suits me.  I've always been a night owl."

"I suppose you're in the right business, then," Harry noted.

The man poured out cereals and added several dollops of yoghurt.  "You're a cop, right?"

"After a fashion.  It's more like secret service," Harry specified.

"That's right.  I think you said.  So what does that mean?"

Harry smiled at him.  "What I do is a bit more specialised," he said vaguely.  "It's the same sort of thing.  Investigating.  Chasing bad guys.  But not the same type of bad guys as normal cops.  It's a bit difficult to explain," Harry said.

Haytham gave him a look.  "You say that a lot," he said. 

Harry snorted.  "Yeah.  I suppose I do."

"So is it dangerous?"

"Sometimes," Harry said.  "I'm the head of my department, so I don't do as much field work as the others."

"You're so young," Haytham said.

Harry nodded.  "Yeah.  But I'm good."  He offered a cheeky grin.  "I spent several years doing forensics.  I led a group of investigators who helped the regular cops solve unusual cases," Harry explained.  "I did really well at it and they moved me up."

"What about the others?  Do they give you a hard time?"

Harry shook his head.  "I was worried about that when I accepted the job, but no.  They're okay with it."

Harry lifted his mug to his lips and blew lightly before sipping.

"You're good at getting them to obey, are you?" Haytham teased.

Harry laughed.  "I can be very persuasive," he said solemnly.

"You know, this is the part where I lecture you about safe sex," Haytham said, meeting Harry's eye.

Harry sighed deeply.  "Go on, then."

"Seriously.  You have to be careful, Harry.  You have no idea where I've been," he said. 

"You're right.  But you said you were safe.  I trust you," Harry said.

Haytham frowned.  "Don't.  Don't trust anyone.  Ever."

"So, you're not safe?" Harry asked, meeting his eyes.

"Of course I am," Haytham said irritably.  "That's not the point.  I could be lying to you," Haytham pointed out. 

"You're clearly not," Harry responded.  "I'm highly trained to spot a lie," he said, smirking.

Haytham gave him a look.  Harry grinned.  "Come on.  I'll prove it.  I'll ask you a series of questions, and you respond with either the truth or a lie.  You'll tell me if I get it wrong."

Haytham nodded.  "All right," he said.

Harry nodded.  "What's your full name?" he asked, meeting the man's eyes. 

"Haytham Hussein," the man said, and Harry could see the name written in the man's mind.

"How old are you?"

"38," the man answered immediately.

"Where were you born?"

"London," the man said, but the image Harry saw contradicted it.

"How many men have you slept with?"

Haytham blinked and then laughed.  "Dunno," he said.

"You don't know?"

"No idea.  Surely not more than seventy," he said.

"Bloody hell," Harry said.  He shook his head in wonder.   "What was the name of your last boyfriend?"

"Dominic."  The name Bryan appeared in Harry's mind.

Harry smiled.  "You weren't born in London.  Your last boyfriend wasn't called Dominic.  And you truly have no idea how many people you've slept with," Harry said, raising his eyebrows for confirmation.

Haytham shook his head.  "His name was Dominic," he corrected with a satisfied smile.  Harry narrowed his eyes.  Again, the name Bryan appeared.

"You're lying," he said.

Haytham held his gaze a moment before laughing.  "I'm lying.  His name was Bryan.  You're good."

"I told you."

"But you still need to be careful," Haytham said.

Harry sighed.  "You're right.  I'll do better in future," he said meekly.

"Seriously," Haytham insisted.

Harry laughed.  "Have you ever had sex without a condom?"

Haytham nodded.  "It's the benefit of being in relationships," he said. 

Harry turned at the sound of his phone ringing faintly from his jacket.  "That's me," he said, standing and walking to where his jacket hung by the door. 

"I'll just go to the loo," Haytham said, as Harry pulled the phone to find it was an unidentified number. 

"Potter," Harry answered, watching Haytham disappear into the bedroom

"Can you talk?"

It was astonishing how the sound of the man's voice could pull him completely away from the present and ensnare him.  Harry felt a blush rise to his face as an inexplicable guilt overtook him.  He felt like he was in school again and had just been caught out doing something he shouldn't have been doing.

 "Severus," he breathed after a long pause.   The memory of his dream came back to haunt him, bringing with it the cloud of anxious sorrow that had been dispelled by the morning's activities.  "I dreamt about you last night," Harry said.  "It was terrible.  Is everything all right?"

"No," Severus said quietly.  "The last time I saw you, you told me about a wizard who had researched cancer," he said.

It was like a wave of cold descended suddenly from the grey clouds outside.  Harry's eyes darted toward the door of the bedroom.  He turned and walked to the end of the room, looking down on the dreary streets of London.  A feeling of foreboding crept over him.  "Is it David?" he said weakly.

There was a pause followed by the sound of a slow breath being expelled.  "The notes.  His research notes.  Did you find them?"

"Severus," Harry said quietly, "tell me what's going on."

"He's sick," Severus snapped.  "Do you have them?"

Harry shook his head dully, acutely aware of where the discussion was going and desperate to head it off.  "They were taken as evidence."

"But you could get to them," Severus insisted.

Harry fought to keep his tone calm and steady.  "You must be desperate to help him.  This isn't the way, Sev.  Let his own doctors look after him."

"He's dying." The tone was tight and angry.  Cold.  Harry squeezed his eyes shut, dread rising to choke him.  "The doctors can't help him.  He'll be dead within a year if I can't do anything."

"I'm so sorry," Harry croaked.  The sincerity of his apology gutted him.  After all that the man had gone through – in his life, in an effort to make his relationship work – he didn't deserve this. 

"I don't need your pity.  I need your help," Severus snapped.

"I know how difficult this must be for you," Harry said, his voice cracking. 

"You have no idea," Severus growled.

Harry covered his eyes with his hand and took a deep breath.  "There isn't anything you can do, Sev.  It's too dangerous.  You'll kill him."

"He's fucking dying, Harry," Severus shouted, his voice piercing Harry's ear and hollowing him out. 

Harry blinked rapidly against a sting in his eyes.  His whole body ached on the other man's behalf.  "Whatever he did, it didn't work, Sev.  He killed people."  He had to make the man understand.  It was a futile objective, but he had to try.

"Do you think I'm a fool?" Severus said sharply.

"You know I don't," Harry snapped back.  "But you're not thinking clearly.  You'll go to prison.  Your whole life – everything you've built  -"

"He is my whole life, you fuc-" 

There was another long pause in which Harry could hear the man's ragged breathing.  Harry's heart thundered to fill the silence.  He swallowed thickly.  "David wouldn't want you to do this," he tried.

A mirthless laugh.  "I rather think he'll be happy not to be dead."

"You don't know anything about medicine."

"That's why I'm calling you, Harry.  I just need his notes.  I need to understand."

"I know this is hard-"

"You know nothing," Severus seethed.  "You have no idea."

"I know what it's like to lose someone," Harry said coldly.

"You have seen people die, painlessly and instantly.  You've never watched someone waste away, day after day.  Unable to keep anything down, spending every waking moment alternating between writhing agony and drugged stupor.  You have never seen suffering like this, Potter.  You have no fucking idea." 

Severus' voice was a serrated edge, tearing at Harry's resolve and leaving it holding by a tattered thread.  He wanted desperately to help the man.  If he thought the notes would serve any noble purpose, he'd risk his job to preserve the man's happiness.  But nothing good could come of it.  Haxton's experiments hadn't worked.  Harry sniffed wetly and wiped his face.  "I could lose my job, Severus," he pleaded.  "It would ruin my career and for nothing more than a few notes that serve absolutely no purpose.  You're right, I can't imagine what you're going through, but I know that you can't help him," Harry said, desperately.

"Listen to me, you ungrateful little fuck.  How many times have I saved your wretched life?  And now you would keep me from saving the man I love?  You owe me this, Potter."

"That's not fair," Harry said breathlessly.  Some part of him recognised Severus' tactics, knew he was desperate for help and would resort to anything to get what he wanted.  The bigger part of him recoiled as the words sliced through him.  "You know I would do anything for you.  But I can't help you destroy yourself."

The silence on the other end was absolute.  There was not even a whisper of breath.  When Severus finally spoke, his tone was cold and measured, as resolute as granite.  "I'll do what I have to do.  You can either help me avoid making the same mistakes, or I'll go into it blindly.  You'll have that on your conscience."

"Severus, please.  Don't," Harry begged.

"Fuck you, Potter."

"Sev ... Severus?"

Harry looked down at the blank screen in disbelief.  His hand moved up to cover his mouth.  There was little doubt in his head as to what Severus was going to do.  It was far less clear what Harry was going to do to stop him.  He had to go and see him.  He had to help him through this.

"Everything all right?"

Haytham's voice startled him.  He turned to see Haytham's worried expression.  "Harry?"

Harry opened his mouth, but his throat was too tight to speak.  He had to go.  He started toward the door until it occurred to him that he was in his pants.  He stopped and blinked before wiping his face and walking toward the bedroom.  He coughed to clear his throat.  "I'm sorry.  I have to go," Harry said, not meeting the other man's eyes.

He dressed in a daze, sitting on the bed to pull on his socks.  The other man watched him from the door, concern clear in his eyes.  "I couldn't help but overhear," Haytham said quietly.

Harry's eyes darted in a panic toward the other man as he tried to recall if he'd said anything damning.

"It was your teacher, yeah?  Severus?"

Harry wetted his lips.  He nodded.  "His partner is very sick," he said quietly.  "Haytham – if you ever speak to Ginny, you can't mention him.  She has no idea I'm still in contact with him.  It would be really bad if she found out."

Haytham smiled faintly.  "All right," he agreed easily.  "Is there anything I can do?  Do you need a cab?"

Harry scrubbed his face with his hands and shook his head.  There wasn't anything anyone could do.  Therein lay the problem.  He stood up and faced the man, unsure what to say.  The euphoria of the morning had already become a distant memory, and now the man watched him like a stranger, outside Harry's reality.

Haytham stepped forward and held Harry's face with both hands, thumbs sweeping over the trails left by Harry's tears.  "I'm here if you need anything," he said and closed his eyes to press his lips to Harry's mouth.

"Thanks," Harry said, attempting to smile, but his face wouldn't cooperate. 

Haytham stepped back and Harry moved quickly to the door, unsure of where he was going.  To the Ministry?  To America?  He took his jacket and turned to find Haytham behind him.  The other man accompanied him down in the lift and to the back door.

"You'll let me know how it all works out with your wife's family?"

Harry blinked owlishly.  The pending destruction of his family had been totally wiped out of his head.  He had to be at the Burrow tomorrow, he remembered.  He had to go to dinner with Luna and Neville tonight.  The whole host of prior obligations weighed him down, pinning him to London even as his thoughts flew the span of the Atlantic toward Severus.  His heart.  He felt he was being choked again and took a deep breath.  "I'll let you know," he agreed.

"It's not my business, Harry.  But if he's asking you to do something that will get you into trouble-"

Harry frowned, knowing where that sentence was going.  "He's not thinking straight," Harry said.  "It's really difficult to explain."  Haytham's mouth twisted into an amused smirk and Harry snorted.  "I say that a lot."

"I'll call you," Haytham said.  "Good luck."

Harry didn't bother casting an impermeable spell as he went out into the drizzle.  The cold misery outside perfectly complemented his mood.  He made his way into a nearby blind alley and, making a sudden decision, disapparated.


Chapter Text

"Harry!" Hermione smiled to greet him.  Her smile faded at the sight of his pale, worried face.  "What's wrong?"

"Can I come in?" he croaked.

She stepped back and let him move past her.  "Ron's out.  He's taken the kids to the playground."

"I'm here to see you," Harry said.

"He took it really well, if that's what you're worried about," she said, her eyes softening with sympathy.

Harry's thoughts tripped in their single-minded pursuit.  "Yeah?" he said, momentarily confounded by the news that Ron was aware of his tendencies and wasn't ready to abandon him.  It hadn't even occurred to him to worry about seeing Ron when he came here, taken as he was by his fears for Severus and his desire to help the man in any way he could.  "How did you…"

She gave him a smile that looked at once smug and slightly abashed.  "Tea?"

"Please," Harry said.  Tea wouldn't take away his problems, but he had full faith in its curative properties.  Everything looked a little more manageable with a cuppa.  He followed his friend to the kitchen and sat at the table, watching her prepare it.

"You totally owe me," she said with a grin.  "I had to spend the night reassuring Ron that I was perfectly happy with our sex life."

Harry's eyebrows furrowed in confusion.  "Why?"

"Well, I had to find some way of bringing the subject up.  So I asked him if he ever found our sex life… lacking."

The explosion of laughter surprised Harry.  He'd not have thought himself capable of it five minutes ago.  "Oh, dear," he said grimly.

"Hm," Hermione agreed, bringing a tray with a tea pot and two cups to the table.   "I told him that I was just curious to know if he ever wanted anything different.  He asked why I was asking, and I brought up you and Ginny.  I had to assure him that I wasn't at all interested in being spanked," she said with a nervous titter.  Her cheeks flushed pink.

"Dunno, Hermione," Harry grinned, "I think you have potential."

Hermione gave him a bland look, the pink burning to red.  "No, I don't," she said firmly.  "Anyway, I told him about Ginny's relationship with Gwyn.  He said he wasn't surprised that Ginny was slightly bent.  I told him that Ginny wasn't the only one, and that according to Ginny, you'd had an affair with a bloke before the two of you were married."

"And he said?" Harry asked warily.

"He went quiet a moment and then blamed Ginny for perverting you." 

"Perverting me," Harry repeated.

"You know what he's like.  He's never been the most sensitive bloke in the world.  He said he's known you for over twenty years, and that if you were that way inclined, he'd know about it.  I told him that Ginny wondered if she'd not got pregnant and you two hadn't married, if you wouldn't have gone that way on your own."

She paused to pour a drop of milk in each cup before adding the tea.  "He called it utter bollocks, and so I told him about the Polyjuice thing.  He was furious, but not with you.  He said that if Ginny really believed that you were gay, it was really crap of her to wave it in your face like that.  He said it would serve her right if you left her for a bloke."

Harry's eyes widened.  "He didn't.  He said that?"

She snorted.  "I don't think he meant it.  I defended Ginny, saying that I thought the two of you might have been having problems in that area.  That Ginny knows you'd never cheat on her, and so she wanted to give you what you weren't getting."

Harry bowed his head, resting it against his hand, elbow propped on the table.  He tried to picture the expression on Ron's face – confused and repulsed by the very idea.

"He asked me if I thought you were gay.  I told him that if you were, you'd be terrified to tell anyone.  He gets it, Harry.  He may have the emotional maturity of a flobberworm sometimes, but he's really good at seeing the big picture.  He knows what you would stand to lose – what the media would do to you.  At the end, he just said, 'Poor sod.  It's never easy for him, is it?'

"He'll spend the next few days digesting it, Harry.  But don't be surprised if he confronts you," she said.  "Tell him the truth if he does."

"I can't believe he took it so well," Harry said in an awed tone.  "I expected … disgust.  I mean, he gets weird when Ginny and I talk about the clubs-"

"He gets weird because it's Ginny," Hermione said.  "He still sees her as his little sister.  I don't think that will ever change.  But god… After that little discussion, I spent the night assuring him that no, Ron, I have no interest in buggering you.  Nor do I want to invite another woman to bed."  She grinned at Harry.  "I think he was slightly disappointed by the latter.  Bloody men."

Harry laughed.  "It's not all of us," he pointed out.

"So, is it two men for you then?"

The question came with a startling image that Harry had to blink several times to dispel.  "I'll let you know if I ever get there," he said with an amused smile.  Predictably, Hermione's brave banter fell over itself, leaving her red-faced and giggling.  It was one of his favourite pastimes, winding Hermione up.  "Thanks, Hermione.  I really do owe you," he said.

She reached over to rub his head affectionately.  "It'll be hard for you, Harry, but we're behind you.  We've always had your back.  Nothing will change that," she said.

Harry lowered his eyes, touched by the expression of what really should appear obvious after all these years.  He felt slightly guilty for having doubted Ron.  "I don't know what I'd do without you two," he said, quite honestly.

"Well, hopefully you'll never have to find out," Hermione said.  "Is that what was bothering you?  You stayed up all night worrying about it, didn't you," she supposed.

"Sort of," Harry said with an enigmatic smile.  "But that's not why I'm here," he said, his objective coming back into clear focus and the weight of the burden settling once more.  "Do you still have your research from when your mum was sick?"

Hermione gave him a surprised look that turned wary just as quickly.  "Why?"

"I have a friend who'd like to see it.  His partner's got cancer," Harry explained.

"A friend?  Anyone I know?"

Harry shook his head.  "No.  You don't know him.  He lives in America."

"Is it that writer that you and Ginny met up with?"

Harry blinked and then latched onto the truth, pleased to have a way out.  "Yeah.  His partner Jack called me.  I had told him about Haxton when he told he was trying to find a remedy for David's diabetes.  He'd hoped to get Haxton's research, but I can't give him that.  I'd hoped you had something to help him."

"What kind of cancer?" Hermione said, standing.

"Dunno.  Does it make a difference?"  The look he received communicated quite clearly how stupid his question apparently was.  He half-expected her to lecture him on not having read Hogwarts: A History.

"Of course it matters.  Breast cancer isn't the same as skin cancer.  Not even all breast cancers are alike," she told him, turning to walk purposefully toward her study.  Harry scurried to follow.  "I compiled a bibliography of everything I could find.  A lot of the stuff is just general medical studies on how Muggles differ from Wizards physiologically," she said.  "There are four or five articles specifically on cancer itself.  I think I have copies somewhere."

She waved her wand to light the cramped and cluttered office.  She began shifting piles of books and stacks of parchment.  Every now and again, she added something she found to a growing tower of binders and books.  She came across a few note books and straightened up, giving him a defiant look.  "I have Haxton's research," she said defensively, adding four thick files to the stack.

"Hermione," Harry breathed in disbelief.  "You stole evidence?"

"Of course not," she snapped.  "I copied it," she said defensively.  She looked away and continued searching through the clutter.  "What he did was unethical, Harry, but his findings are valuable.  They should be published instead of gathering dust in the evidence archive where they can be of no use to anyone."

"He killed people," Harry said incredulously.

"Do you know how many people die from cancer?" she asked suddenly, her eyes glinting.  "What he did was wrong, but if the results aren't published, people will not have the benefit of his experience.  They'll make the same mistakes and kill more people uselessly," she argued.

"I can't believe you copied the evidence.  Do you know how much trouble you'd be in?"

She laughed mirthlessly.  "You going to arrest me?"

"Don't be stupid," Harry snapped.  "I know you'd never experiment on people.  But still, Hermione –"

"Harry, when have you ever balked at breaking the rules when you know it’s the right thing to do?" she asked plainly.  They both knew he didn't have a response to that. 

"But why?  Your mum was well clear before the Haxton case," Harry said.

"Cancer's hereditary, Harry.  It runs in my mum's family.  My nan died from it," she explained.

Harry shook his head. "You're a witch," he pointed out.

Hermione nodded.  "But I'm Muggle-born.  There's nothing that counts me out.  There isn't enough information out there to make me sure I won't get it.  If it happens, I intend to be prepared."  She surveyed the stack she'd accumulated.  "I think that's everything.  I'll want this back," she said.  "I'm afraid he'll come to the same conclusion as I did, though.  There's not much that can be done without doing more harm.  If he has any questions, he can owl me, ok?"

Not bloody likely, Harry thought, but he nodded all the same.  "I'll tell him.  Thanks," Harry said.

"And Harry, I wouldn't mind seeing what he comes up with."


5 September 2015

Dear Severus,

I'm sending you everything Hermione has collected on the subject.  It includes the Haxton notes you wanted.  It appears Hermione agrees with you that they should be put to good use.  I told her that it was for a 'friend' called Jack whose partner David was ill.  If you have any questions, you can owl her, she said.  She'd also like to hear your conclusions at the end of your research and know if you find anything she hasn't found yet.

You know I don't expect you to contact her.  I'm just passing on the message.

She wants this stuff back as she's still researching the subject.  You can send it back to me once you've copied it, and I'll return it to her for you.

Please be careful.  I sincerely hope you can help him, but I don't want to see you ruined in the process.  You may care nothing for your life without him, but I do. 

Fuck you, too, by the way.




Over the years, Harry had grown accustomed to being stared at.  He'd always been unnerved by those who stared blatantly, goggling at him and his scar as though at any moment Voldemort might come bursting through it.  Just at the moment, however, he thought he preferred it to the surreptitious stares he was receiving tonight.  The pensive looks that shifted away guiltily whenever he looked up.

"Everything all right?" he asked Ron in a firm tone.  He supposed he couldn't blame the other man, given the information Hermione had shared with him.  But tonight he was on edge.  Between Arthur's awkward smiles and Molly's random attacks of affection, George's salacious grins, and the large unmovable elephant in the room, he'd had quite enough.

Ron feigned interest in the chess board.  On the bright side, the man's game was uncharacteristically rubbish and Harry might have a chance of winning this time.  "Great," Ron said weakly.  He looked up.  "Everything okay with you?"

"You seem a little odd," Harry said, narrowing his eyes.  He needed time to digest, Hermione said.  Harry tried to find the patience to give him that time, but the last few days had been harrowing, and Harry's patience was thin.

Ron shrugged dismissively.  He moved his centre pawn forward half-heartedly. It cringed.  Harry took it with his King-side Knight, leaving Ron the choice of which Bishop he intended to save.  Ron blinked at the board as though trying to work out how he'd gotten himself into this mess.  He grunted in self-disgust and sat back.  "I can't do this tonight, mate," he sighed.

Harry laughed.  "Come on, Ron.  It's my only chance to end your ten-year winning streak," he said.

Ron snorted.  "Twenty years."

"I won once or twice.  I must have done."  Harry took a drink from his bottle of butterbeer and sat back.  "What's up?"

Ron gave him a wary look and shook his head.  "It's nothing."

Harry gave him a look.  "Not even the threat of Voldemort put you off your game.  What's the matter?"

Ron's eyes cast around the room, although it was empty.  George was outside raising havoc with the kids.  Hermione, Ginny and Rachel were out there ensuring George didn't get too carried away.  Molly was in the kitchen and Arthur was fiddling with the broken computer that Hermione had offered him for Christmas in his shed.  "Harry, you know we're mates, right?"

"Last time I checked.  Should I be worried?" Harry said.  He should probably feel guilty about the mild deception, but they'd set the stage and both Harry and Ginny needed to play along now.  Besides, it was entertaining watching Ron struggle to talk about it.

"No.  That's just it.  You never have to worry about that," Ron said decidedly.

Harry smiled.  "Thanks," he said in a puzzled tone.

"I mean… if you and Ginny are having problems … she's my sister, and I know I go a bit mad.  But you're my mate and you always will be.  No matter what."

"Ginny and I are getting along great," Harry said carefully.  "What's this about?"

The front door opened and both men started.  George lumbered in, shutting the door behind him.   His red hair stood on end, giving him a ginger halo against the light from the windows. 

"What happened to you?" Harry asked, laughing.

George grinned.  "Got beaten at my own game," he laughed.  "Shock tarts," he explained.  "Your James is a natural, I never even saw it coming."

Harry sighed.  "I'm so proud," he said blandly.  "Don't encourage him," he said.  "It's all right when it's you, but Al doesn't find it so funny."

Small sparks fizzled at the ends of the man's hair as he trod across the room.  "You talk to him?" he asked Ron.

"Not exactly," Ron muttered awkwardly.

"About what?"

George slid onto the sofa beside Harry, flinging his arm over Harry's shoulder.  Harry yelped at the sudden shock of electricity.  The two Weasleys exchanged a series of looks before George sighed, rolling his eyes.  "If you were gay, you'd tell us, right?  No secrets between mates and all that?"

Harry didn't really have to feign surprise.  He'd not expected the question to come so directly.  "Er…"

"George," Ron said, covering his face.  "Merlin, and Hermione accuses me of being tactless."

"You've been pussy-footing around it all day.  Just ask.  Right, Harry?"

"Erm … why … where did this come from?"

"Hermione," George offered.

"She told me about you and Ginny … and the Polyjuice," Ron said, lowering his voice.

"And now we want to know if you're totally bent or just like a little variety," George said. 

It was Harry's turn to cover his face, which he instinctively knew was bright red.  "Erm," he stalled, his heart thudding desperately in his chest.  Tell the truth, Hermione told him.  Had it been just Ron and him, tête-à-tête, he might have managed it.  The addition of George with all his casual brazenness made confessions come less easily.  They were supposed to reveal this gradually over time.   Suddenly, the closet had been blown wide open and Harry had never felt so exposed.

"He's not denying it," George said helpfully.

"Give him time.  He's in shock," Ron reproached.

"I…" Harry took a deep breath.  "I'm."  It was useless.  He had no idea what to say now.  "A little," he breathed. 

"A little gay?" George laughed. 

Ron didn't laugh.  He looked at Harry with a concern.  "You mean you like both?"

"Look, Ginny and I are working on it," he said, keeping with the line that Ginny and he had originally planned.  It wasn't exactly a lie. They had worked on it.  It simply hadn't got better.  "It's not a big deal."

"Working on what, exactly?" Ron asked. 

Harry dropped his gaze back to the chess board.  He had the impression that the pieces were listening intently.  "We're … I'm having problems," he said.  The humiliation came quite naturally at the confession.  "Since the Polyjuice … experiments," he said carefully, not daring to look at either of them.  "I can't … I'm not affected by her anymore."  He swallowed thickly.

"I knew it.  She made you gay."

"You can't make anyone gay, you dolt," George scoffed. 

"Keep your voice down," Harry pleaded.  "We'll get through it.  It's just going to take some time."

"How long has it been?"

Harry hesitated and looked up at Ron, who didn't look ready to kill him.  He didn't look disgusted either.  He looked like a friend who was concerned for his well-being, and mildly uncomfortable about the idea of his sister having sex at all.  "Nearly two years," Harry whispered.

"Fucking hell!"

"George!" Molly's voice chided from the kitchen.

"Sorry!" George called back.  "Two years?" he hissed.

"We get around it," Harry said.

"How?" George demanded incredulously.

"I don't want to know," Ron said quickly.


George sniggered, and Ron covered his eyes with his hand.  "I reckon you've got a mighty strong tongue by now," George said, waggling his in demonstration.

Both Ron and Harry groaned.  "It helps," Harry agreed.  "It's not easy for her.  She deserves better than this.  I'm trying," he said apologetically.

"Are you still … er, brewing?" Ron asked.

Harry shook his head.  "No.  We stopped that years ago.  It wasn't doing us any good."

"So ... how do you?  Do you?  I mean, it can't be easy for you either, right?"

He and Ginny had agreed not to talk about anything extramarital.  He shrugged.  "My right hand is pretty strong as well," he said with a sideways grin.

"Merlin, Harry.  You can't expect to go on like this forever," Ron said.  "What are you going to do?"

"We'll keep trying," Harry said.  "We've got the kids to think about."

As though on cue, five children bounded through the front door, led by James.  The women corralled them, shouting out instructions as the room suddenly became chaotic.  "James, take off your shoes," Ginny shouted as the ten-year-old tread mud through Molly's living room in his haste to get to the kitchen. 

Ginny met Harry's eye, and Harry gave her a slight nod.  She offered a small smile in return before waving her wand to clear up the tracks of mud. 

"Everyone to the table," Molly announced.

Harry lingered back with Ginny while Hermione, Rachel, Ron and George attempted to bring order to the chaos of kids.  "Did he freak?" Ginny asked.

"He's strangely cool about the whole thing," Harry whispered.  "So is George," he added.

Ginny weaved an arm around his waist.  "Ron's probably thrilled you can't have sex with me anymore," she joked.

It wasn't funny.  He could normally stand to have his failings mocked.  Taking the piss was a great British tradition, after all.  He couldn't laugh at this.  Somehow, the knowledge that everyone knew and no one had patently rejected him yet hadn't made him feel better.  He recalled how Ginny had cried when she came back from telling her mother.  He could feel his throat tighten and his eyes sting.  A pit of loss opened up inside him and threatened to swallow him up into the void.

"Do you need a minute?" Ginny asked.  Harry nodded.  "Do you want to be alone?" she added.

Harry nodded again and Ginny kissed him lightly on the lips before joining the others in the kitchen.  Harry turned to go onto the porch and stared at the gathering storm on the horizon.  He took several deep breaths to fight the rising sorrow, without trying to analyse it too much.  It was as Ginny had said: admitting it made it more real.  He could talk to outsiders – Haytham, Severus – but both those worlds were separate from his own.  Bringing it home to his family, speaking aloud his well-kept secret worked like magic to weave it into his very identity. 

There was no escaping it now.  He didn't have a gay side.  It wasn't an inclination.  It wasn't a passing fancy.  Harry was homosexual, and it wasn't going to disappear.  And despite the line they were feeding the family, everyone knew it wasn't going to go away.

Harry tried to will his expression into something less distraught at the sight of Arthur coming up to the house to join them.  Arthur gave him a small smile.  "Harry, what are you doing out here?" he asked.

Harry met his eyes.  "Just getting a bit of air," he said. 

Arthur stood beside him and put his hand on his shoulder.  "Looks like rain," he commented.


 The two stood in awkward silence as Arthur struggled to compose whatever it was he'd been trying to say all afternoon.  "I remember the first time I saw you.  For all the grandiose legend that surrounded you, you were just a slip of a child.  You always looked a bit surprised every time we spoke kindly to you.  You were so quiet, Harry, as though you expected to be thrown out the minute someone noticed you were there.  By the end of your stay with us that summer, I already thought of you as family," he said.

Harry swallowed, blinking rapidly.  He offered a weak laugh.  "I remember wishing that was true.  That you'd just adopt me, and I'd never have to go back to the Dursleys."

"We would have done," Arthur admitted.  Neither of them needed to mention why they couldn't.  "When you married Ginny, I was pleased as punch to be able to finally, officially, call you son," Arthur confessed.  "But Harry, you'd have been our son no matter what.  And you always will be.  You understand that, don't you?"

Harry bowed his head and covered his eyes with his hand.  He couldn't contain the emotion raging through him.  He couldn't pretend to be ignorant of the reasons behind Arthur's reassurance.  It touched that part of him that was still trapped in a cupboard on Privet Drive.  The part of him that couldn't imagine what unconditional love felt like.

"Ginny talked to Molly about your troubles," Arthur told him.

Harry nodded, still unable to look up.  "I'm sorry, Arthur.  I've let everyone down."

Arthur's hand tightened over his shoulder, urging Harry to face him.  Harry looked up with red, moist eyes into the kind, aging face of the only real father figure he'd ever had.  "Harry," he said, suddenly serious.  "If you must apologise, apologise for doubting even for one second that Molly and I love you.  Whatever happens, we Weasleys stick together.  If I didn't reject Percy for turning out conservative, I'm not going to reject you for ... being you."

"There you two are," Molly said, poking her head out the front door.  "Dinner's going cold," she reproached.  Her eyes darted from Harry's blood-shot eyes to Arthur's sombre gaze, and her face crumpled.  "Oh, Harry, dear," she crooned, and stepped out to pull him down into a soft, maternal hug.  Arthur's arms went around them both, his lips pressing against the top of Harry's head.  "You mustn't be angry with Ginny," Molly wept.

"I'm not," Harry assured her in a tight voice.  He sniffed.  "I'm glad she has you to talk to."

"We're here for you both, Harry.  Always," Arthur reiterated.

Molly pressed a wet kiss to Harry's cheek and released him.  "We'll get through this," she promised him.  "As a family."


 How did the family outing go?

Harry's eyes widened at the text message.  He pushed the flat button at the top of his phone to clear the screen and slipped it into his robes.  His gaze returned to George Paisley, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement.  He was a pallid, insipid old man who Harry had little esteem for, despite the fact that the man had given him his job.  He held no delusions that his appointment to the Head of the Aurors was merit-based.  That he was good at his job was superfluous to the man's greater political agenda. 

His eyes met Hermione's stubborn gaze. Paisley's advocacy of a new, friendlier face of the MLE held no more water for her than it did for Harry.  There were more pressing issues that needed to be addressed.  A higher incidence of illicit potions use might have been a good place to start.  There were several reports from Hogwarts of students overdosing on a potion known as Cloud Nine, which was coming over from the continent.  Instead of concentrating his efforts on finding out how the potion was getting brought in and by whom, Paisley had him touring Wizarding Britain on some absurd PR campaign. 

"If there are no other questions, we'll close – Yes, Ms Granger-Weasley?" Paisley said wearily.

"Sir, I was hoping we could spend a moment discussing the enforcement of the Magical Creature Protection Act.  I submitted my report –"

"We're out of time, Ms Granger Weasley.  I will have a look at your report and we can discuss your findings next week."

Were Hermione capable of wandless magic, Paisley might have gone up in flames, judging by the furious gaze she shot him.  Harry's own mouth pressed into a grim look, but he said nothing, eager to leave the meeting room and get some proper work done.  The meeting was dissembled and Harry stood, waiting patiently behind for the others to leave so as to take up his role as target for Hermione's newest rant about the incompetence of appointed leaders.

The moment Paisley disappeared out the door, the woman gave a low growl.  "The kinder face of the MLE?" she muttered incredulously.  "We don't need a kinder face.  We need an effective leader.  I swear some days I regret joining this department."

Harry understood her frustration.  There had been a number of reports of continued abuse of the newly protected magical creatures, despite, or perhaps because of the new laws that went into effect two years ago to protect them.  Bigotry was well-ingrained in the Wizarding world and centuries-old habits were exceedingly hard to break.  Harry had received a number of reports from McGonagall in regards to Teddy fighting over the past few years, and at its heart was the fact that Teddy was the son of a werewolf.

"Come on, Hermione.  We knew he was useless when he was appointed."  Paisley made little effort to conceal that his ultimate goal was to be elected Minister in the next few years.  He was using his power over Harry to make it seem like Harry supported his campaign.  Harry had no intention of letting that happen.  The new PR campaign that Paisley had put in place would be used to advocate change in the MLE, if Harry had anything to say about it.

Hermione furrowed her brow and stormed out the room, her robes billowing behind her.  It made Harry think of Severus briefly, which made him remember the text message from Haytham.  Harry reached out to stop her in her tracks.  He looked her full in the face.  "He thinks he's in charge, but we've got all the power.  Send me your report, I'll put some men on it."

"Or women," Hermione snapped.

Harry grinned.  "I'll put some people on it," he amended.

Her irritated expression faltered slightly.  She sniffed primly.  "How are you holding up?"

Harry's brow creased.  "Holding up?"

Hermione gave him a look.  "You looked totally desperate Sunday," Hermione said.  "Ron said you told him," she said.

"I told him," Harry agreed.  "You're right.  He was cool about everything," he said.  "And so were George and Molly and Arthur.  It was just a bit overwhelming to be suddenly exposed like that."

Hermione laid a hand on Harry's shoulder.  "Just Percy, Bill and Charlie to go," she said with an encouraging smile.

"And the kids, and the rest of the world."

"One step at a time," Hermione said with an encouraging smile.  "Got to go.  I have a meeting with my staff to go over Paisley's joke of an agenda," she said, her expression going stormy again.

"Good luck," Harry said.

"Have you heard from Jack, by the way?" Hermione said, swinging around.


"Your friend in America." 

"Oh.  No.  But I only sent him the stuff on Saturday."  He didn't really expect to hear anything anyway.  Not for a few months, at least.

"OK.  I'll see you."

"See you," Harry said, turning in the opposite direction to go to the Auror office.  He pulled his phone back out of his robes and texted his response. 

Amazingly well, thanks.  Sorry for leaving the way I did.

The response came seconds later.

NP. Look forward to hearing about it.  Tonite?

Harry bit his lip uncertainly, and slipped the phone back into his robes as he entered the office, which was relatively empty as most people had not come back from lunch yet.  He greeted his assistant, Dahlia, who he'd managed to talk into joining him at the Auror office when he was promoted.  "Morton will be in touch, Dahlia.  Paisley is setting up a series of meetings for me.  No more than one a week, okay? Preferably on Mondays," he told her.

She offered a maternal smile.  "Shall I set up an informal lunch with Minister Shacklebolt?" she asked.

Harry smiled at her but shook his head.  "Not yet," he said.  He did what he could to try and keep from complaining to the Minister about the idiot he'd appointed to be head of the department, although there were several times he'd demanded that his assistant set up just such a meeting before immediately changing his mind.  As long as Paisley let him alone to get on with the important work, Harry supposed he could jump through the hoops necessary to keep the man happy.  Some part of him bristled at the idea that Paisley got credit for Harry's good work, but that part of him was kept in check by the part of him that knew the man wouldn't be around forever. 

He went into his office, closing the door behind him and stopping at the sight of a wrapped sandwich sitting on his desk.  He smiled and peeked his head back out the office.  "Thanks for lunch," he said, earning him a satisfied look from his older assistant.  He went to sit behind his desk, his stomach filling with a ridiculous fluttering as he pulled his phone back out.

Can't tonight.  Still married.

His disappointment that he couldn't go was nothing compared to his elation that Haytham wanted to see him so soon.  The elation itself was frightening and ill-advised.  Meaningless sex was one thing, but a married man had no business getting giddy over a stupid text message.  He was an adult, for fuck's sake.   He set his phone face down on his desk and glared at it for good measure.  He picked up the top file from a small stack of reports that needed reading and stared at it uncomprehendingly as he waited for the telling buzz of the response.

One drink.  Happy hour. Don't make me beg.

The stupid grin that stretched across his face couldn't be contained.  The thundering of his heart would bear no reproach.  A small twinge of guilt twisted inside of him as he knew this was a line he couldn't afford to cross under present circumstances. 

He turned his phone back over and pulled his sandwich toward him.  He took a bite of the tuna on brown bread, and it turned to a solid lump in his dry mouth as he chewed.   His eyes flickered over the report on a disturbance in Brighton involving a carnivorous letter slot and an unfortunate postman.  The perpetrator had been an irritable old witch who had become fed up with the abuse she was receiving from the neighbourhood Muggle children.  She'd not meant to make the teeth quite so sharp.

His phone buzzed again.  Harry twisted his mouth, looking at the thing balefully.  He turned it over to find another message from Haytham.


Harry gave a desperate little laugh and dropped his head to his desk.  Against his better judgement, he pulled the phone to him.

One drink. 5?

Perfect.  Meet me at the Club.


The afternoon had crept by slowly, and by the end of the day, each minute became interminable and charged with nervous anticipation.  When at last 4:45 came around, Harry changed into a Muggle suit he kept in his office, and made his way through the Floo system to the apparation point.  He apparated under a disillusionment charm to an alley neighbouring the club.  He pulled out his phone to scan for a Wizarding presence in the vicinity.  He found nothing, but cast the cloaking charm anyway to prevent anyone but Haytham from seeing him properly.

Haytham waited for him by an electric blue iron door six feet from the main entrance, wearing a pair of dark jeans and a pink shirt that was tailored to complement his broad chest.   He grinned warmly as Harry approached, eyes sweeping over him .  Harry could feel the weight of the man's gaze like a caress sliding down his body.  He felt his ears go hot and offered a silly smile.

"How many ways are there into this place?" Harry asked wryly.

"This is the member's entrance," Haytham explained, pushing the door inward and holding it open for him.  "Which you would know if you'd ever taken advantage of your prize."

"I thought I had," Harry remarked dryly, meeting the man's gaze.

Haytham laughed.  The door slammed behind them.  Harry was introduced to Carrie, a woman with pink stripes in her blond hair and a bored look in her eyes, who sat at a table in the dimly lit entryway.  He offered her his coat, which she hung behind her before returning her attention to her phone.

Haytham climbed the stairs in front of him, and it took all the will power Harry possessed not to reach out and touch the man's firm arse as he followed.  They pushed through another door and found themselves in the corridor, leading to the club.  "It's weird to see you in a suit," Haytham commented.

Harry shrugged.  "It's weird to come to a club on a Wednesday," Harry responded back. 

Haytham began pressing buttons on a key pad below and stepped aside.  "Put your finger on the screen," he instructed.

Harry gave him a look but obeyed.  A small beep registered his fingerprint. Haytham pressed a few more buttons and then grinned.  "Now you're one of us," he said and laughed sinisterly.

Harry snorted.  Haytham pulled his hand over, kissing it lightly on the palm before leading his index finger back to the screen.  Another beep and a snick of the lock.  Haytham pulled the door open.

The room he entered wasn't what Harry had expected.  Gone was the ghostly pallor of blue cast over the place the last time he was here.  The room was lit softly and lined around the floor with the neon blue that gave the place its name.  The room buzzed gently with low conversations from the men at tables, most of whom, like Harry, were dressed in business suits.  At the centre of the room, the bar stood, lined with the same blue lights.  Harry recognised the bartender from New Year's Eve, but couldn't quite recall his name.

Mike, he thought.  Or John.

"What do you think?"

"It's nice," Harry said.  The atmosphere was comfortable and not at all as seedy as he'd recalled it.  A female singer cooed softly from the speakers under the general hum of conversation.  A few eyes looked their way, staring past Harry to Haytham, who led him to the bar.  Harry let the spell fall as Haytham said, "Matthew, I believe you've already met Harry."

Matthew's eyes narrowed and then shifted uncertainly to Haytham.  "I don't think so," he said, but held out his hand in greeting. 

"Of course. You wouldn't recognise him without his wings."  His hand stroked down Harry's back.

Harry laughed and lowered his eyes, feeling a little embarrassed at the memory of his audacious costume.

Matthew gasped.  "Bloody hell," he said, eyes going wide to take in Harry in all his mundane splendour.  "We all assumed you'd gone back to heaven!" 

Harry glanced at Haytham, who appeared to be enjoying the other man's surprise.  "I don't get out very often," he confessed.

The man gave Haytham a playfully suspicious look.  "Or has this wicked man been hiding you?" he said.

"Could you blame me?"

Harry rolled his eyes.  "I met up with him only last weekend."

"Well, welcome back," Matthew said.  "I'd wondered what you'd look like under all the gold."  Matthew treated him with another appraising look and then smiled.  "What can I get you?"

"Nothing yet," Haytham said, cutting Harry off.  "Business first," he said with an enigmatic smile.  He took Harry by the hand and led him away.  Harry just had time to register a faintly surprised look on the bartender's face before being led across the room and down the central corridor in the back.  Haytham stopped at the door on the end and pulled a set of keys from his pocket.


"We need to get you properly registered," Haytham said, and pulled the door open to reveal a sizeable office with a lounge area on one end and a brushed steel desk on the other.  London peered in from the large window behind the desk.  Haytham walked over to grab a file, gesturing Harry into a leather chaise longue.  Haytham joined him a moment later, pen in hand.

"So, name.  Harry..."

"Potter," Harry said, feeling a little bit wary.

"Harry Potter," Haytham repeated, pausing a moment to look at him before turning back to his form.  "Address?"

"Er... I don't really need to join the club, you know."

Haytham gave him a look.  "You already have.  We have your fingerprints and everything," he pointed out, with a teasing smile.

"Can I put down a post box?"

"Afraid I'm going to stalk you?" Haytham said, grinning.  "All right, your post box."

Harry gave the man the details of the post box he reserved entirely for his correspondence with Severus. 

"Occupation...  Difficult To Explain," the man said as he wrote down the words.  Harry laughed and shook his head.  The man continued to fill in the form, crossing out the spaces for income and ticking the box that made him an Executive Member, with the start date of seventh September.  He handed Harry the clipboard.  "This is just a routine confidentiality agreement," he explained.  "We have a lot of men who would prefer that their membership not be widely known."

Harry smiled, thinking he could relate.  He took the pen to sign his name, agreeing not to disclose any details in regards to the members of the club.  He handed the file back to Haytham with a smile.  Haytham set it on the table.  "Of course," he said, lowering his voice and pushing Harry against the backrest, "Now I have a terrible dilemma."

Harry held his breath as Haytham's face drew nearer his own.  His heart beat quickly against the man's palm. "Dilemma?"

"I don't fuck people from the club," Haytham said.  He leaned in closed to suck Harry's bottom lip between his own.

"I withdraw my application," Harry said soberly.

Haytham chuckled before feeding Harry his tongue.  Harry responded eagerly, tapping his tongue against the other man's, and following its retreat into Haytham's mouth.  Haytham gave a low groan, wrapping one hand into Harry's tie while the other held fast to Harry's jaw.  This kiss grew aggressive, teeth scraping lips.  Harry's hands curled into Haytham's hair.  Haytham broke away to breathe.  "I haven't stopped thinking about you since you left me."

Harry understood the issue.  Whether he liked to admit it or not, Haytham invaded his thoughts at random moments over the last few days.  He'd reprimanded himself for being so ridiculous, but he'd not been able to stop himself.  Ill-advised, Severus might say, and this time Harry had to agree.

Most of Harry agreed.  The part that didn't inflated with elation at the man's words.  He felt a little less like an idiot knowing that he wasn't alone in his idiocy.  He blinked at the man with a wide smile.  "Really?"

Haytham grinned.  "I had dinner with an old friend Monday night and bored her to tears talking about you," he said. 

Harry's heart soared.  There was no other word for it.  The only thing keeping it attached to his body was a niggling thread of apprehension.  Harry bit his lip and lowered his eyes.  He was going to have to find a way to stop this.  He simply wasn't free to feel so besotted.  "Haytham, I-"

He was cut off by an insistent press of lips.  "You think about me, too," Haytham whispered.

"Yeah, but I-"

Another kiss.  "A lot."

"Mostly I'm trying not to think about you," Harry argued.

"Why on earth would you want to do that?"

Harry gave the man a look.  Haytham pressed another kiss to his mouth, lingering this time until Harry returned it.  After a breathless moment, Harry resurfaced to pant, "This is supposed to be a drink."

"I can't help myself," Haytham sighed.  "You're addicting."

Harry shook his head.  "You're mad," he said.  "And I'm not allowed to do this again until next month."

Haytham's eyes widened.  "Next month?" he said incredulously.  "You're joking."

"I'm not," Harry said, his spirits deflating and falling withered back to earth.

"I'll talk to Ginny," Haytham said decisively.  "Let's call her."

"No," Harry said firmly.  "It's not fair to her, Haytham.  As it is, she contents herself with lesbians once a month when she's not really a lesbian.  She's giving up a lot because of me, and I can't repay her like this.  If she's to be miserable, then I should be as well."  Harry gave the man a wary look.  "I'm sorry."

Haytham's face fell in disappointment.  "Me too," he said desperately.  He sighed heavily.  "I knew all this," he said, as though reminding himself.  "Why don't you both carry on affairs?"

It was a fair question, but not easy to explain.  "We can't risk people finding out about it before we're ready," Harry said.

"London's a big place, Harry.  It only takes a little discretion.  It isn't as though you're followed by the paparazzi," Haytham said with a sideways smile. 

Little did he know.  "It's not that big a place," Harry said.  "And neither of us wants to do anything that risks getting emotionally involved.  It wouldn't be fair to the other person," Harry said, not meeting Haytham's eyes.  He scrubbed his hands over his face and stood, straightening his tie and smoothing down his jacket.

Haytham followed and corrected his collar.  "I don't know how I'll manage a month," he said.  One corner of his mouth curled up in a half-hearted smile.

Harry gave the man a grim look.  "Perhaps it's best not to wait.  I don't know when all this will end, Haytham.  I can't make any promises that it will be soon. "

The habitual glint in the man's eyes flickered out.  Haytham cupped Harry's face and pressed his lips to Harry's forehead.  "I don't expect promises from you, Harry.  And I don't offer any either.  I want to see you again, if you're willing.  If you want to."

Of course he wanted to.  Therein lay the problem.  Harry smiled and nodded.  "I'll let you know when I'll be free," he said.

"Excellent," Haytham grinned, eyes dancing once more.  "Have time for a drink?"

Harry grinned.  "A quick one," he said.

Harry was home within an hour, having recounted a brief summary of how his Sunday had gone.  He dodged several questions in regards to Severus, who Harry couldn't let himself think too much about just then.  Harry again agreed to let Haytham know when he'd be free next and said goodbye to both him and the bar man.

Ginny greeted him tersely as he entered and refused to look at him during dinner.  They were telltale signs that he was in trouble.  He'd told her that he would be late and explained to her where he'd be.  At the time, she didn't seem to mind, so Harry thought he must have unwittingly done something else to annoy her.  After the kids were in bed, he came down to find her in the study, face lit up by the swirling lights of a memory in the Penseive.  Harry could see a ghostly seeker buzzing around the pitch, arm stretched to catch the snitch.  Ginny made a few notes on the parchment next to the Penseive and then met Harry's eyes.

"What's the matter?" Harry asked warily. 

"Nothing," she snapped.

"Clearly," Harry said, and then took a chair at his own desk which faced hers.  "Are you angry at me for having a drink with Haytham?" he asked.

"I'm not angry," she muttered.  "Did you shag him?"

Harry shook his head.  "No."  Ginny stared at him as though trying to determine if he was lying.  He gave her a bland look.  "I didn't.  Is that why you're pissy?"

"I'm not pissy!" she snarled.  Harry smiled at her.  She glared back.  "I'm not," she insisted, her mouth trembling with the effort of keeping up the angry scowl.  She sighed and put her face in her hands.  "I'm jealous," she admitted.

"Gin, I didn't do anything.  I told him I wouldn't," he explained.

She sighed.  "I'm not jealous of him.  I'm ... God, Harry.  It's been ages since I've..."

Harry cringed, nose wrinkling as he filled in the missing words.  "I'm sorry."

"I don't want you to be sorry," she said, raising her voice.  "I want you to be happy.  I want me to be happy.  I can't do this anymore," she said desperately, her eyes suddenly wet with tears. 

Harry stood and walked over to her, moving the Penseive from the edge of the desk and planting himself in front of her.  "Come here," he said, pulling her up and drawing her into his arms.  "I shouldn't have seen him.  It's not fair to you," he said quietly.

"It's not that," she said in a tight voice against his neck.  "It really isn't.  If I minded, Harry, I wouldn't have given him your number.  I... I just miss ... men," she sighed. 

Harry stroked her back.  "Ginny, if you want to ... I can't begrudge you that."

"Oh, Harry.  It's not just sex, really," she said and pulled out of his arms to slump back into her chair.  "It is ... but it's more than that.  It's being wanted.  It's..."  She shook her head and stared off blankly.  "Do you remember when we were young?  Before James.  Before Switzerland.  Sunday mornings, we would wake up and you would press yourself against me ... and there were no theatrics or games.  It was just us.  Honest and ... passionate.  I knew you wanted me ... You did, didn't you?"

Harry gave a fond smile in memory.  "Yeah.  I did."  His heart gave a sickly lurch.  Why didn't he now?  Why did he have to change?  They'd been good together.  They'd fought, and at times he truly wanted to curse her, but they worked somehow.  He yearned to have that back.  That simple attraction.  Uncomplicated desire and the intense affection that came with it.  If he could do it all again, knowing then what he knew now, Switzerland would never have happened.  Severus would never have happened.

Harry sighed.  That wasn't right either, some logical part of him insisted.  Switzerland only happened because of a bone-deep dissatisfaction with his life.  With Ginny.  It was the result of his discontentment, and not the cause.  "What do you want to do?" he asked.

She looked up at him.  "Dunno," she answered.  "Now that people know, it's even harder to bear.  I'm impatient, Harry.  I want to finish this.  I want to move on.  But the kids ..."

"It will be hard on the kids no matter when we do it," Harry said.

Ginny nodded.  They exchanged dismal looks, and Harry went to sit at his own desk, facing her.  "Should I start looking for a flat?" he asked, sorrow rising to choke the words.

Ginny looked startled by the idea.  "Or you could stay," she said quietly.

Harry blinked.  "Get a divorce and carry on living together?" he said with a sideways smile.

She shrugged.  "Why not?  At least until the kids go.  We can add a room.  Or shift some stuff out of here."

"I'm not sure your future boyfriend would approve," Harry said dryly.

Ginny's regard became fierce.  "Any future boyfriend will have to be all right with you being around," she said adamantly.  Her expression grew doubtful.  "Do you want to leave?"

Harry shook his head.  "I can't imagine not having all of you around," he said. 

"Then we stay together.  At least until it stops working," she said.  She grinned suddenly and laughed.  "People will think we're mental," she said.

Harry snorted.  "Everyone who knows us already does," he pointed out.  "We'll need to prepare a statement," he said, dread solidifying in his gut.  Sometimes, he really hated being him.  The end of his marriage would be difficult enough to live through without the interference and meddling of the press. 

Ginny nodded.  "I'm more concerned with telling the children," she said.

Harry swallowed thickly.  "When do you want to do it?"

"We'll talk to them this weekend," she said.  "I'll invite Mum and Dad over for dinner on Sunday."

The pair looked at each other for a long moment.  Harry could practically hear his heart cracking under the heavy feeling of loss and fear of what was to come.  His throat went tight and his eyes stung.  He blinked several times and nodded before standing up and leaving the room.

When later they dressed for bed, they were quiet.  Harry curled up behind his wife, holding her tightly to him.  Her body shook against him as she cried.  His own tears flowed unhindered to the pillow as he wished with every ounce of his being that things were different.


The family was assembled in the sitting room.  The atmosphere was heavy with the gravity of the situation, despite Ginny and Harry's reassuring smiles.  In all their lives, the children had never sat so quietly.  Three pairs of eyes looked to them for answers, filled with an intuitive anxiety.

Harry and Ginny exchanged glances.  Ginny took a deep breath and began.  "Do you remember the book that aunty Hermione gave us?"

James nose wrinkled in disdain.  Al's expression grew confused and Lily nodded.  "About love?" she recalled aloud.

"About love," Harry said with a smile.  "And do you remember what the book said about the different kinds of love?  There are all sorts of ways we love each other.  Like love between brothers and sisters, or between friends."

"And between daddies and mummies," Lily piped in.

"Right," Harry said awkwardly.  "Well, sometimes the way we love each other changes over time," he added.

"Like sometimes people can start off as friends and grow to love each other romantically," Ginny offered.

"Like you and dad?" Al said.

Ginny and Harry looked at each other.  "That's right," Harry said, smiling at his son. 

"And then sometimes, people who start out loving each other romantically, find later that they rather love each other like friends," Ginny added.

"Why?" Lily asked.

"No one really knows, darling.  Feelings change over time.  People change," Ginny told the girl.

"It's like with Bear," Harry noted.  "When you were younger, you took Bear everywhere you went.  We couldn't even get him off you to wash him, remember?"

"Yeah, but I was a baby then," Lily informed him, rolling her eyes. 

"That's just it.  You changed.  And you still love Bear, but differently from before, right?"  His eyes swept over the faces of his children.  James appeared distinctly suspicious.  Albus looked frightened.  Only Lily took the conversation to be nothing more than a lesson on love.

"He's on my shelf," Lily agreed, referring to the shelf on which she collected her most prized possessions.

Ginny gave an indulgent smile, and then glanced at Harry with an uncertain look.  She took another deep breath and continued on, "Your daddy and I have decided not to be married anymore.  While we love each other very much, it has been a long time since the type of love we feel for each other has changed."

"But you're married," Lily exclaimed, believing wholeheartedly that marriage was a type of spell that guaranteed happily ever after.

"You're splitting up?" James cried.

"We understand how hard this is for you all to understand.  It's very difficult for us to explain to you.  Mum and I are the very best of friends, and we always will be," Harry told them. 

"Do you love someone else?" James demanded angrily.

"No," Harry and Ginny replied in unison.

"But someday we might," Ginny added.  "And when that day comes, James, we'll still be a family.  Nothing will ever change that."

"Are you going to leave?" Albus said, eyes brimming with tears as he looked at Harry. 

At the sight of Albus' tears, Lily began to cry.  Both Harry and Ginny moved to the sofa to comfort the children.  Ginny pulled Lily to her breast and stroked her head.  Harry gathered Albus onto his lap and put his arm around James.  "I'm staying here.  So is mummy.  Neither of us are going anywhere for the moment," he offered.

"You can't split up and stay together at the same time," James declared.

"Who says we can't?" Harry challenged gently.  "We can do anything we like.  It's our family."

James shook his head as his world view turned upside down.  "What's the point in splitting up, then?"

"Shut up, James!" Albus shouted.

"Shh.  Don't shout," Harry said calmly, throwing a desperate look toward Ginny, who closed her eyes and rested her head on top of Lily's.

"Normally, when parents split up, one of them goes away because the mummy and daddy don't like each other very much anymore.  They fight, and that's not nice to live with.  We're lucky, because with me and your mum, it isn't like that," Harry explained, desperate to find some way of helping the children to understand.  "So we can live together as a family, even if we fall in love with someone else."

"Why can't you fall in love with each other?  That's why you're married!"

Ginny sighed heavily.  "It's not that simple, James.  We can't choose who we fall in love with.  In a few years, you'll understand better."

"It's a bit like spinach," Harry said.  "You hate spinach, right?  And even if you tried really, really hard, you'd never be able to make yourself love it."

Ginny laughed at the analogy.  Harry responded with a hopeless look. 

"I didn't used to like broccoli, but now I like it," Lily protested.

"That's because your tastes changed," Ginny told her, smoothing down her hair.  "And now that you like broccoli, you're not likely to stop liking it.  Once something like that changes, it doesn't change back."

"So you were in love, and it changed, and now you'll never be in love again," Albus summarised.

"Romantic love," Harry specified.  "We love each other, but not like married people should."

"It's about sex, isn't it?" James said.

Harry and Ginny stared at their son with matching expressions of astonishment.  "Erm..." Harry said.

"Like what the ducks at the pond do?" Lily said.

"How do you lot know about sex?" Ginny said, torn between concern and amusement.

"Daphne told me about the ducks and how they make babies with sex," Lily explained.

Harry and Ginny exchanged looks.  They'd be having a word with the nanny.

"Teddy and Victoire were talking about it," Albus offered.

Harry felt certain the day just got darker.  "Teddy and Victoire?" he choked, his mouth going dry.  He'd had 'the talk' with Teddy years ago, though he couldn't help but think the two were far too young to be thinking about sex.  He ignored the fact that he wasn't much older than Teddy when he and Ginny had done it and that he was considered a bit of a late bloomer in that respect.

"You boys can talk about that later," Ginny said with a meaningful look in Harry's direction.  "It's mostly about finding a way to make all of us as happy as we can be," she finished.

"I'm happy the way we are," James insisted.

Harry pulled the boy close and leant over to kiss his head.  "Change is always a little scary," he said.  "But more often, when we go through it, we find we're just as happy as we were before the change.  Sometimes, we're even happier," Harry said.

"The important thing is that we talk about what we're feeling," Ginny told them.  "And that we stay together as a family.  Together, we can make this work."

Harry and Ginny exchanged smiles, and Ginny stood, letting Lily slide to the floor.  "Lily and I are going to let you boys talk," Ginny said.  "And then we'll talk again later all together, okay?"

"I want to stay with Daddy," Lily protested fearfully.

Harry moved Albus to the sofa and slid forward to take his daughter into his arms.  He held her tightly.  "We're just going to talk about boy stuff," he told her.  He put his forehead to hers.  "You and I will talk later, okay?  Besides you need to help mummy pick out a birthday present for auntie Hermione."

Ginny put her hand on Lily's shoulder.  "Come on, darling.  Daddy isn't going anywhere."

"Go on," Harry urged.

The little girl sniffed bravely and allowed herself to be escorted from the room.  Harry fought the urge to bury his face in his hands and cry.  He turned instead toward the boys, who sat sullenly on the sofa.

"Hey," he said.  "I doubt you will even notice there's a change at all," he told them.  "Mum and I might sleep in separate rooms eventually, but..."

"You can sleep in my room, Dad," Albus offered.

Harry grinned.  "Thanks, Al.  But I think we'll manage without putting either of you out.  I'll take the study, and mum will move her desk into her bedroom."

James sighed and picked at the skin around his nails.  "James?  Why don't you tell me what's bothering you?"

"What happens if mum falls in love?  Or you fall in love?  What happens then?"

"Well," Harry began carefully, "Nothing you need to concern yourself with right now.  Your mum and I talked a lot about this.  We agreed to keep that part of our lives separate from the family for now.  Later, if it happens, then we'll welcome the person into the family.  It's as simple as that," Harry said, recognising that it sounded far simpler than it actually would prove to be.

"I don't want a new dad," James shot back.  Albus looked shocked at his brother's statement.  It had clearly not occurred to the boy that might be a possibility.

"You won't have a new dad," Harry said fervently.  "I will always be your dad.  Mum will always be your mum.  Nothing will change that.  Not even if she or I fall in love."

"But we'd have a step mum," Albus said, frowning.

"Were I to marry a woman, yes.  But that wouldn't change the fact that Mum is your mum."  Harry sighed.  "Take Teddy, for instance," he tried.  "Teddy isn't your real brother, but you love him like he is, right?"

Both boys nodded. 

"And just because Teddy's around, doesn't mean Albus isn't your brother anymore, right?"

"Well, that's just stupid," James said.  "You can have loads of brothers and sisters.  But you are only supposed to have one mum and one dad."

"You only have one mum and dad," Harry said wearily.  "But if Mum were to marry another man someday – a long, long time from now – then you'd have one mum and one dad, plus someone like Teddy who joins the family from the outside."  Harry surveyed his sons, who were lost in contemplation of the unimaginable.  "Don't worry about that yet," Harry said.  "We're far from being at that point."

"What if your new wife doesn't like us?" Albus asked.  "Like in the stories."

Harry laughed.  "Do you really think your mum or I could love someone who didn't think the world of you?  You three are more important than anything.  You know that, right?"

James and Albus nodded. 

"Good.  Now ... about what you heard from Teddy and Victoire," he said.

James and Albus looked at each other and sniggered.  "We heard them talking about the kids in their school who got caught doing it in the Astronomy Tower."

Harry felt tentatively relieved that it appeared the two teenagers had been talking about someone else.  "And do you know what 'doing it' means?" he asked warily.

"Sex," James said.

"Right.  And do you know what that means?"

Both boys blinked.  "It's what boys and girls do to make babies," Albus explained.

"It's what men and women do to make babies," Harry corrected.  "When they're all grown up.  It's how two adults express their romantic love for each other," he completed. 

"But Teddy and Victoire aren't adults," James pointed out.

Harry's stomach jumped into his throat.  "And are they ... doing it?"

James shrugged.  Albus shrugged as well.  "But the kids at school were."

"They're a bit young," Harry said.  "But there are ways to keep from having babies.  You'll learn all about that in school," Harry said, mentally cringing in memory of the lesson on contraceptive potions with Severus, of all people.

"What happens if you never fall in love?" Albus asked.

Harry frowned. "Of course you'll fall in love," he said.

"But if you don't ... Teddy said that if you don't have sex your bits will fall off," Albus told him.

Harry's laughter burst forth.  "That's ridiculous," he assured his son.  "He was just winding you up."  Or perhaps it was for Victoire's benefit, but surely she'd not be foolish enough to believe that.  Harry made a mental note to make a trip to Hogwarts for a visit with his godson.  He'd planned to do so anyway, to tell Teddy of Ginny's and his decision, but now there would be more to the conversation than he'd originally planned.

James' nose wrinkled.  "What about exploding?"


"Can a boy explode if he doesn't do it?"

"No," Harry said firmly.  Although at times it felt like one might, he didn't say.  "You won't explode."  It was a bit early to talk about wet dreams, he thought.  "Nothing will happen if you don't have sex.  There are people who go their whole lives without doing it," Harry explained.

"Because they're not in love?" Albus asked.

Harry sighed.  "Look, it's difficult to explain and you two have a long time before you need to think about things like this," he adamantly hoped aloud.  "It's enough to say that sex happens between two people who are attracted to each other.  Ideally, those people will be in love and mature enough to handle the consequences.  Nothing can happen to you if you choose not to do it.  Do you understand?"

The boys stared at him and nodded after a moment.

Harry took another deep breath to brace himself for the rest of the conversation.  "James, you asked if mum and I decided to split because of sex," he said.

James frowned again and lowered his eyes.

"The truth is that it has a little to do with it.  People who are in love with each other are generally attracted to each other.  That is what makes the difference between romantic love and friendly love, do you understand?"

"Yeah," James said.

"Now, we can't choose who we're attracted to.  Like we've already said, it's just like choosing to like foods.  You either like it or you don't, and everyone is different."

"And you don't like mum?" Albus asked sadly.

"I love your mum," Harry insisted.  "But like a friend.  We're not attracted to each other anymore."

James frowned.  "But mum's pretty.  Everyone says so."

Harry laughed.  "She's beautiful.  Your auntie Hermione is beautiful, too.  But I'm not attracted to her either.  And uncle Ron is a handsome man, but it doesn't mean I'm attracted to him."

"But he's a man," Albus said.

And now they were at the heart of it.  "What does that change?"

"You're a man, too," James pointed out.

"Two men can be attracted to each other.  Just like two women.  Sometimes a person can be attracted to both men and women," Harry instructed calmly despite the nervous thudding of his heart. 

Albus frowned, trying to process this new information.  "Like in the book," he said.

"Like in the book," Harry agreed.

"But two men can't have babies," James said.

"Two men can't have babies," Harry agreed.  "But that doesn't mean they can't be attracted to each other."

James wrinkled his nose.  "But it's weird."

"Why is it weird?" Harry asked with a bemused smile.

James shrugged.  "You never see it."

Harry nodded.  "It's true that it's not as common as men and women being attracted to each other, but it's not as rare as you think.  Your mum finds some women attractive.  I find some men attractive," he said, presenting it like it was the most normal thing in the world.  He wiped his palms over his trousers.

"Really?" James said, frowning.

"Really," Harry answered. 

"So you might fall in love with a man?" Albus asked, eyes wide.

"I might," Harry answered.

"Have you ever loved a man?" James asked.

"I've been with your mother since I was very young," Harry replied evasively.  "But I wouldn't rule it out.  Would it bother you?"

James shrugged.  "Dunno. "

"But if you married a man and mum married a man, we'd have like, three dads," Albus added.

"You have one dad," he said firmly.  "You will only ever have one dad."

James' eyes were cast upward in thought.  "Can two men even get married?"

"If they want to, yes," Harry answered.  Harry decided to cut off the line of questioning before they got to sex.  "Are you both okay with your mum's and my decision to get divorced?  I know it's a bit of a shock, but I promise we'll do everything we can to make it easier for you," he told them.

"It's sad," Albus said.

"It is a little.  It makes mummy and I sad too.  But I hope at the end of it all we'll all be a little happier," he added.

"You're really not going to leave?" James asked.

Harry smiled.  "Mum and I plan to stay here together until Lily goes to Hogwarts.  After that, we'll have to see how things work out.  Is that acceptable?"

James and Albus gave identical sighs of dismay.  "I suppose so," James said.

Harry reached forward to pull them both into a hug.  "I love you," he said kissing both of them on the head.  The sentiment was returned in a staggered, monotone chorus.

Later that night, Harry sat reflecting on how relatively well the entire afternoon had gone.  The children were a bit subdued and pensive to begin with, but gradually the evening fell into its normal routine of bath time and bedtime and whatever anxiety caused by the afternoon's discussion was forgotten for the moment.

Ginny came in to the sitting room and poured herself a glass of wine before sinking to the sofa beside him.  "Lily's unshelved Bear," she told him.

Harry wrinkled his nose.  "Oh, dear," he said. 

"I think she'll be okay.  How did the talk with the boys go?"

"All right.  I'm going to have to have a talk with Teddy, though.  Albus and James were under the impression that if you don't have sex either you'll explode or your bits will fall off."

Ginny sniggered.  "I wonder how many girls he's used that line on," she said dryly.

Harry cringed.  "I'm having a hard time coming to terms with that," he said.  "I mean he's seventeen, of course he's shagging.  Most people are at that age.  I might have been too, were it not for Voldemort."

Ginny gave him a look.  "You realise he's shagging Victoire, right?"

Harry nodded.  "Does Bill know?"

Ginny laughed.  "Yeah, he knows.  He had a hard time understanding Fleur's relaxed attitude toward it.  Fleur put Victoire on contraception when she was fourteen."

Harry's eyes widened.  "God, that's so young," Harry groaned.

"Not so young," Ginny said.  "I started fooling around about that age."  She laid her head on Harry's shoulder.  "Albus told me it was okay if I wanted to marry a woman tonight," she said.

Harry laughed.  "I don't think he cares much about the idea of having three dads," he said.  "I think two mums might be palatable.  I tried to reassure him that he'd only ever have one of each, but it hasn't really sunk in."

"They need time," Ginny said.   "Are you all right?"

Harry nodded.  "You?"

"I feel like a giant weight has been lifted.  I don't care what happens after this," she said.

Harry couldn't help but agree.


Chapter Text

25 November 2015

Dear Severus,

I haven't heard anything from you, and I'm worried. I realise you have a lot on your mind at the moment and probably can't be bothered to write, but you can call me. I don't have that luxury as you've never bothered to give me your number. I know we rowed when we spoke last, but I was hoping that sending you what I did showed good faith on my part. You can't blame me for valuing your life over David's. I hardly know him.

Please send me some word. I'd settle for a bloody text message. If you don't know how, I'm sure David or one of the Coven can show you. Just let me know you're alive and not in prison. Let me know if I can help. If I don't hear from you soon, I'm coming there.

Consider this fair warning.



Severus' eyes strained as he stared at the cramped, tidy notes of Hermione Granger. The number of times he'd cursed the girl for being an insufferable know-it-all, he now found himself profoundly grateful at the girl's inexhaustible curiosity and extraordinary research skills. He'd ceased perusing the various articles she'd sent for anything she may have missed in her notes, as it turned out to be a waste of time.

He had ceased re-reading but now, on his third way though the ton of research he'd received from Harry and the various medical institutions he'd contacted, he searched every word for some glimmer of hope. He waited, in vain, for the moment of epiphany to reach him, as it so often did when he'd developed spells and potions in the past. But everything he'd read and everything he knew pointed to one inevitable conclusion: there was nothing he could do.

He could now consider himself somewhat of an expert on the differences between Muggles and Magical Persons. He could give lectures on the genetic differences between them and talk at length about cancer and its effect on the human body. He could even explain why Wizards were not affected.

It came down to one gene that appeared in magical people. Two Muggles who had no trace of the gene in their DNA could somehow produce a child in which it appeared, as if by magic. There was no pattern, or no pattern had yet been detected to predict the occurrence of the gene. No more could one understand why two magical persons might produce a Squib.

What everyone seemed to agree on was that it was this gene that allowed cells in a Wizard and Witch to be highly regenerative. It was the reason that a Wizard with only a few drops of blood left in his body could take a potion that would replenish his store overnight. It was interesting to learn that only Dark Magic could kill off the cells' ability to regenerate.

Interesting, but entirely unhelpful.

That perfectly summarised everything he'd learnt in the past three months, and Severus was growing increasingly frustrated by his failure. Wizards and Witches who had far more knowledge and time at their disposal had already treaded this path. As inventive and ingenious as Severus had proven himself to be over the years, nothing he could think to do hadn't already been thought of and discounted.

The hope he'd had when he received Potter's package full of research had withered to fearful desperation. David was dying of pancreatic cancer. They called it the silent killer as it was so difficult to detect in time for recovery to be a medical possibility. Had it been found before, had David's incompetent physician not been so quick to dismiss the symptoms as normal given his condition, had David fucking listened to him when he insisted there was something wrong...

Had he listened to his own instincts, they might have caught it early enough. The cancer had now spread to his liver and lymphatic system, and now it was only a matter of time.

Time, the one thing he'd never been able to control. It sped away from him until his life became a blur of hours and days and weeks spent looking for an answer. It had to be somewhere. He simply couldn't accept that there was nothing he could do. He'd not surrendered his heart and his secrets ... his life to someone only to have that person disappear. Not again.

Not this time.

A soft touch to his shoulder, wrenched him out of his dismal thoughts. Severus turned to see David staring down at him with a wan smile. "Are you all right?" Severus asked. "Do you need something?"

David shook his head and sat in a chair at what was once their dining table, and was now a mess of books and paper. David began looking through a stack. "How's it coming? Have you got through it all yet?"

Twice. Severus was on his third way through, taking time to copy those notes and articles that were the least useless. But he couldn't tell his partner that. "Nearly," he said quietly.

"What's this?" David said, picking up a piece of parchment, his eyes scanning it quickly.

"Let me see," Severus asked.

David continued reading, his frown growing deeper.

"What is it?" Severus snapped, not wanting the man to grow as dismayed as he'd become. One of them needed to stay optimistic.

"It's a letter from Harry," David said. "Have you spoken with him?"

Severus glanced down, vaguely remembering having received it and thinking he should respond before the stupid man showed up on his doorstep. He simply didn't have time to deal with him. A small twinge of guilt twisted in his gut. "I'll write to him when I send this lot back," he muttered.

"Why would he worry you're in prison?" David asked, confused.

"How should I know?" Severus snapped.

David glared at him. "What did you fight about?"

Severus pressed his lips together. "It was nothing," he said. "I'd asked him to send me some notes that were part of an investigation he led a few years back. He refused out of fear for his job," Severus summarised.

David frowned and picked up the letter again. "You can't blame me for valuing your life over David's," he quoted. "What does he mean by that?"

Severus clenched his jaw. "It means he's a fool," he said after a moment.

David's eyes narrowed suspiciously. After a moment, he shook his head and let the letter fall to the table. "Are you hungry?"

Severus blinked at the reprieve he'd been given. "Are you? Go and lie down. I'll bring-"

"When was the last time you ate?"

The question was irritating, and Severus had no space in his mind to devote to recalling such trifles. "Go and lie down," he repeated. He stood and winced slightly as his joints creaked with the change of position.

"I'm feeling fine. I don't want to lie down," David insisted. He stood in front of Severus and reached up to run his fingers through Severus' lank, stringy hair. "Let's have a bath," he proposed.

Severus cast his eyes over the stack of books he'd yet to work through. "A bit later," he said. "I want to get through this lot," he said.

David gave him a firm look. "Hadrian, that lot will still be here tomorrow. I might not be. It's enough for today." His hands slid down Severus' arms to hold his hands.

"Don't say that," Severus growled, as he was tugged toward the bathroom.

"Come on," David said, the ghost of a teasing smile on his lips that only served to remind Severus of the man David once was. "Do your magic trick," he smiled, waving at the cramped room that had just enough space to fit a shower, toilet and small wash basin. Severus waved his wand and watched as the room expanded to reveal a deep bath, long enough to hold the two men comfortably. He set the water to running.

David's hands trembled as his fingers fumbled with the buttons on Severus' shirt. His jaw clenched as he fought for control over them. Severus' hand's closed over David's. He squeezed them gently and then took up the task, leaving David to shed his t-shirt on his own.

Severus averted his gaze, unable to bring himself to see what the wretched disease had done to the man's body. David had always been on the thin side, but now he was skeletal. A pale layer of thin, freckled skin covered a delicate frame. The image was unavoidably burnt into Severus' mind.

Severus let his shirt slide off his arms, and David walked up to let his fingers trip down Severus' ribs. The man wore the tight expression of one trying desperately not to cry. Ridiculous, really, as Severus thought he might have kept his garden well-watered with the tears shed over the past few months. "You need to take better care of yourself," David said in a rough voice. "You must have lost twenty pounds."

The observation was so absurd coming from this man that Severus had to laugh. "And you're the very picture of health," he said.

David's pale lips pressed into a white line. "There's no use in both of us dying," he shot back.

Severus visibly winced at a spike of pain in his heart. His entire being recoiled at the notion of death. "I'm not going to let you die," he growled. "I'd appreciate it a great deal if you'd stop saying that."

David's eyes filled with sorrow as he gave Severus a long look. At length, his eyes slid closed, his brow creasing with a frown. He took a deep breath before pushing down the pyjama bottoms that he lived in these days. As he lifted his legs to get in the bath, Severus stared at the sharp point of his coccyx. He could count every vertebra.

David sank down into the hot water and opened his arms to beckon Severus to join him. Severus resented the waste of time that could be spent finding a way to preserve the man's life and to restore him to health. With an irritable sigh, he finished undressing and joined the other man, slipping between his emaciated legs. David pulled him back to rest against his chest.

"There. That's better," David said. He dipped a cloth in the pool of water in front of Severus and let the water flow over Severus' chest. "Did you hear anything back from Russia?" David asked. Severus made a mental note to stop discussing his research with the man. There was no sense in both of them feeling disappointed.

He'd written to one of the Wizards cited in several articles on the subject of Muggle medicine to see if he could share any additional information. He received a reply expressing regret for Severus' circumstances and a warning to make his peace. "Not yet," he lied stiffly.

"Get your hair wet," David ordered, hands pressing down on Severus' shoulders. Severus complied, immersing himself completely while David's fingertips massaged the water down to his scalp. He came up dripping. David began massaging shampoo into his hair.

"Shouldn't I be doing this for you?" Severus said wryly, closing his eyes and expelling a deep breath. It had been some time since he'd bothered with this, preferring the efficiency of a quick cleaning spell.

"I'm not completely useless yet," David said sourly.

"I didn't say you were useless," Severus sighed, sinking down again to rid his hair of lather. He came back up, wiping his face of the excess water and curled his knees to his chest. The cloth ran over his back.

"I'm worried about you, Hadrian," David said quietly. Lips pressed between Severus' shoulder blades. Severus twisted around and gave the man an incredulous look. "I'm not the only one. And the others don't know you half as well as I do."

Severus scowled. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, sincerely flummoxed. He was fine. A bit frantic and not just a little desperate to hang onto that which was slipping further away daily, but he was healthy enough.

"You're not dealing with this," David said.

"What the hell do you think I've been doing these last four months, David?"

"Refusing to deal with it," David said firmly. "Refusing to let me deal with it," he added. "I'm running out of time, Hadrian."

"Stop!" Severus shouted. "I'm doing everything I can do at the moment. I know it's taking some time, but I won't stop until –"

"Until I'm dead," David said sharply.

Severus stood abruptly, sending droplets of water to the floor. He stepped out and pulled his towel from the rack before leaving the room. He couldn't have this conversation. Not when the man shoved his imminent death in his face every chance he could get. He was working as quickly as he could. The answer was there, somewhere, he only needed to find it. David's lack of faith was maddening, echoing his own waning hopes, and one of them needed to be hopeful.

He carelessly cast a drying spell on his hair and moved to pull on some fresh clothes. He had to go somewhere. He needed air, and a walk might help him to find the right way of thinking about things, to offer the perspective needed to find that for which he so desperately sought. He could feel the man watching him from the bathroom door and knew from the wet sniffling that he was crying again. Severus couldn't face the man's tears.

"I don't want to spend my last days like this," David said. "I can't watch you destroy yourself for my sake."

"I'm fine," Severus insisted, pulling on his boots.

"You're fine," David echoed mockingly. "You don't eat. You hardly ever sleep, and when you do, it's usually when you've keeled over from exhaustion over those fucking books. You don't even bother cleaning yourself anymore."

"I use a spell-"

"Well, your spell is shit!" he shouted. "You look like crap and yes, I realise that I'm not the picture of health but at least I have an excuse!"

"Well, I apologise if I've had little time to devote to vanity, David. I've been busy trying to save your wretched life!" Severus said nastily.

"I don't want you to save my life. I want to spend what little life I have left with you, Hadrian, and I can't do that if you're busy searching for a miracle." The man's words trailed off weakly. His fingers went white as he clung to the door frame, determined to stay upright.

Severus hated the man's weakness. He hated his mortality. He'd been prepared to accept that, as a Muggle, David would necessarily predecease him. He had rather counted on having a good thirty or forty years to decide what he would do when he inevitably found himself alone again. Forty-four was too young to die, and Severus couldn't help but feel slightly betrayed.

"What do you want from me? That I just accept that you're dying. That I sit and watch this disease consume you, torture you, and do nothing?"

"No. I expect that you sit by me, offer me comfort. Offer me love and tell me that I'm not alone. Because I can't go through this alone," David choked.

"I'm with you every possible moment I can be. And when I'm not, I'm rarely far enough away that I couldn't be here in seconds," Severus argued, wounded by the accusation that he'd neglected the man.

"You feed me. You fend for me. But you're not here with me. You avoid talking to me, looking at me. You don't even come to bed anymore," David said. He gave up the effort of standing and slid down the door frame, leaning against it. "I'm going to a hospice," the man said coldly.

"What?" Severus snapped. "Don't be ridiculous. You're not going anywhere. We agreed you'd stay home," he reminded the man.

David's head pressed against his knees. "Then stop," he said quietly. "Please."

Severus blinked against a stinging sensation in his eyes and tried to breathe past the rising despair. "I just need more time," he said gruffly.

David snorted. "It's the one thing I haven't got to give."


"Potter," Harry answered sleepily, having been roused at four in the morning. In his line of work, it wasn't rare that calls should come, but it was never good news when they did.

"Harry, I'm sorry, I know it's late," said an unfamiliar voice. Only the accent gave it away. Harry slipped out of bed and hurried into the hallway. He was suddenly wide awake and filled with foreboding.



"Is he ok? Did something happen?" His mind was flooded with images of Severus behind bars.

"Nothing happened," the man reassured him. "He's out at the moment. I wanted to call you because I know he hasn't."

Relief flooded through him. Harry ran a hand over his face, letting it lay across his eyes. "Thank you," Harry said. Awkwardness replaced the fear. "How are you holding up?"

An amused grunt came through the phone. "I'm ... as well as can be expected. But I'm worried about Hadrian. He's not handling this at all well. After everything he's been through in his life ..." Harry heard the man draw a shaky breath.

"It'll be hard for him," Harry continued. "I suppose he hasn't made any progress, then?"

"No," David said. "He's been through what you sent him several times now. He's been to health centres all over the US and has written countless letters, but I don't think he's found anything."

Harry closed his eyes, torn between relief that Severus hadn't begun experimenting on David yet, and disappointment on the other man's behalf. "I'm really sorry."

"It's all right. Well, it isn't, but you don't have to be sorry. May I ask you a question?"

"Of course," Harry said.

"You and he had a fight. What was it about?" David asked.

"What did he say?"

"He told me he'd asked you for some notes that were tied to a case, and that you wouldn't give them to him out of fear for your job," David recounted. "Is that true?"

Harry frowned, irritated to have been painted so callously. "Sort of," he grumbled. "But I sent him the notes. He got them, right?"

"Yeah. I found the letter you wrote to him, Harry. You said that you value his life over mine. What did you mean by that?"

Harry felt guilt twist his insides. "I'm sorry, David. I know that sounds harsh," he said weakly.

"What did you mean?" David repeated.

"I'd really rather you talked to him about this," Harry said uncertainly. He was torn between wanting to tell David the truth about what Severus was risking, and not wanting to piss Severus off.

The other man heaved a frustrated sigh. "I get your loyalty, Harry, but we both know he's not going to tell me anything. If he's planning to do something dangerous ... or illegal, I ought to know about it."

Harry bit his lip as David's logic slipped alongside his own seamlessly. "A few years ago we had a case of a Wizard whose Muggle wife was dying from cancer. The man posed as a doctor in Brighton and began experimenting on patients, trying to find a cure. It didn't work, and now the man is in prison for the rest of his life. His wife is dead. Hadrian wanted to see Haxton's research, and I was afraid of what he might do with it."

"Jesus Christ," David breathed.

"But he's not doing anything, right? Has he been ... brewing?"

"He has, but I think it's only for pain. The stuff he gives me works better than the prescription the doctors have me on." There was a pause before David said, "Do you think he'll find anything?"

Harry frowned. "I think he's very clever, David. Everything I've heard tells me that it isn't possible to use magic to cure this, but if anyone can find a way it's him. I just know him, and I know that he'd do anything to save you. That worries me."

David gave a mirthless laugh. "Me too," he said. "Harry, what will happen to him if he decides to go back to Britain?"

Harry hadn't expected the question. It took a moment for his mind to switch tracks. "Apart from shocking the hell out of a load of people? Nothing."

"He won't go to prison?"

"No. But it's not likely ever to come up, David. He'll never come back." Harry had long ago abandoned hope for that. He'd not even let himself consider the idea that if Severus did decide to come back, Harry would now be free to be with him. That moment had passed, and while he still felt a profound affection for Severus, the dream had been long ago surrendered.

"He'll need you when this is over," David said quietly. "He needs you now. You're the only one who knows how to deal with him like this. Even I'm struggling."

"What do you mean?"

"Let's just say he resembles his younger self more every day," David sighed.

Harry closed his eyes, a perfect image of everything that implied ready against his eyelids. His heart lurched in sympathy for his old friend. He didn't deserve this. With anyone else, one might try and console them that at least they'd known happiness for awhile. With Severus, Harry feared that this loss might finish the man off. "I'm not sure what I can do, but I'll come if you think it will help."

"It couldn't hurt."

"I'll see what I can arrange. Things are a bit complicated here at the moment, but I think I can swing a few days. He's not going to be pleased to see me," Harry warned.

"He'll be even more pissed off if he knows we talked," David said.

"We won't tell him then. I warned him I'd show up anyway."

"Thank you, Harry."

"See you soon. Take care."


Harry's mouth dropped open in shock when the door to Severus' flat opened. Although he knew that David was ill, and he'd not expected the man to look great, he was totally unprepared for the sight of the man before him now. He couldn't have weighed more than nine stone. He was a collection of bones, barely covered in a layer of thin yellow skin. The only part of him that had any mass to it whatsoever was his belly, which distended out like a balloon beneath his t-shirt.

"Pretty bad, huh?" David said with an apologetic look.

Harry was at a loss for words. "Sorry," he said after a moment, managing to tear his eyes away.

"It's all right. I'm used to it. I'm glad to see you," he said, opening the door so that Harry could pass through. Harry felt vaguely guilty about having made the man make the trip to the door. It was a wonder he made it all that way. "Hadrian should be home soon," he said weakly, reaching out to take Harry's arm. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Er ... no. I'm fine," Harry said, and if he wasn't, he certainly wouldn't say otherwise. "Can I help you?"

"Sofa," David said, his fingers curling around Harry's forearm as he half-led and half-followed Harry toward where a mass of blankets sat. "You've caught me on a bad day," David said, clearly trying to summon some semblance of humour.

"Where is Sev- Hadrian?"

David lowered himself gingerly to the sofa, and arranged the blankets to smother his frail frame. "I think you had it right the first time," David said darkly. "He's gone for take-out. I wish I'd known you were coming today," he said.

"Sorry. I don't have any quick way of contacting you. And I thought it best not to warn him, as he already told me not to come when he sent Hermione's stuff back."

"How is your family?" David asked.

"They're good," Harry said, wondering if the news of his divorce had reached Severus. He knew Severus had once planned to get the Prophet, but he didn't know if he'd actually done so. "James will start Hogwarts next fall," he said.

"Time's gone by quickly, hasn't it?" David said. I can't believe it's been two years since I saw you. You look absolutely no different," the man said with a smile. "It's crazy how slowly Wizards age. Hadrian's going to have to start dying his hair grey soon or people will begin to wonder."

Harry snorted at the idea of Severus colouring his hair. "How is he?" he asked.

David shrugged. "He's stopped spending every free moment looking for a cure," David said. "But he won't talk about it. He makes sure I take everything I'm supposed to take. He tries to make me as comfortable as I can possibly be, but if he's not fussing over me, he doesn't know what to do with himself."

"He's still working?"

David nodded. "Thank heavens. I'd kill him if he were here all day. My sister comes over a lot. And Mary stops by during the day."

Harry started guiltily when the door opened. He turned, apology springing to the tip of his tongue, and then dying abruptly at the sight of the man. "Severus," Harry breathed, but Snape might have been more appropriate. Harry felt he'd taken a trip back two decades and stared now at his Potions master, right down to the murderous glare.

"I told you not to come," Severus growled.

The voice, low and cold, jump-started Harry's brain once more. "Hullo to you, too," he said with a half-smile.

Severus advanced into the room to drop a bagful of food on the table before removing his overcoat. "I haven't got the time to deal with you, Potter. I explained that."

Harry glared. "I'm not here to be dealt with, Professor Snape," he spat back, putting a fair amount of emphasis on Snape to make his point.

"Be nice, Hadrian," David chastised. "I asked Harry to come."

Severus blinked in surprised before his eyes narrowed.

"I thought we weren't going to tell him that," Harry reminded the man.

David gave him a conspiring smile. "Yeah, but he can't stay angry with me. I'm dying."

Severus' jaw clenched, the vein in his temple popping out with the effort of keeping his temper. Harry wondered at David's cruelty for throwing that out so casually. He had to know how deeply that wound went. He bit his lip awkwardly.

"I hadn't realised you two had become such great friends," Severus sneered. "I'll leave you to it. Make sure he eats," Severus spat before turning and walking back out the door.

Harry stood to follow, and then stopped short, wondering if he should do as he was ordered.

"That went well," David commented.

"Why do you do that to him?" Harry asked.

"Do what?" David responded irritably.

"Throw it in his face like that. Can't you see how it affects him?"

David grunted. "Eventually, he'll have to accept it," David said. "Ignoring the fact isn't going to help either of us." David let his head tip back to rest against the arm of the sofa and stared into space. "Go talk to him. He'll be in the garden."

Harry looked at the bag of food and walked over to unpack it. "What are you eating?" he asked removing the carton of Chinese takeaway.

"The boiled rice is for me," David said wearily.

Harry opened the first of three cartons and found what he was after. "Where are the plates?" he asked.

"Don't bother. There should be some chopsticks in there."

Harry gathered the carton and the chopsticks and brought it over. David reached out and met his eyes as he took it. "I know it sounds cruel to you, Harry. But I need him to get it into his head that I'm not going to be here much longer. He needs to start planning for life after this hell ends."

Harry's heart broke for the both of them. For David, who was so bravely staring his mortality in the face. For Severus, who couldn't handle one more loss. At least David's suffering would come to an end.

"Go talk to him," David pleaded. "He needs you."

Harry knew the man was right, but he had no idea how he was going to help this time. He was even less sure that Severus would allow him to help. He pulled on his coat, and went out the door. It took him a moment to remember how to get to the garden, but he managed it at last. Severus sat on a rickety metal chair at a small matching round table, staring blankly at his greenhouse.

Harry sat down in the only other chair. "I didn't realise how bad it was," he said quietly. "I'm really sorry, Severus."

"What the fuck are you doing here?" the man said. His tone was resentful and bitter.

"Are you treating everyone like this? Or am I special?" Harry asked irritably. "I'm here because I'm your friend, you arsehole." Harry glared. "You used to know that."

"Well, you've seen how quickly things change. Go home to your family," the man spat. "They need you. I don't want you here."

Harry's skin had grown thick over the years, but this man could pierce through it every time. Harry took a deep breath, but stayed where he was. The man's gaze was hard when he finally looked at Harry. Harry reached over and put his hand on the man's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I can see right through you, Severus," Harry said sadly. "I'm not going anywhere."

He watched as Severus' Adam's apple bobbed. He blinked several times and turned his gaze away, mouth going tight. He held his breath, even as Harry's clouded in front of him. "He's dying, Harry," the man croaked. "And I can only watch it happen." The man bowed his head and rubbed his eyes. "Is he eating?"

"I gave him the rice," Harry said.

Severus nodded. "He's stopped eating," Severus said. "His liver is gone. I give him a low dose of blood purifying potion, but it isn't enough and he's going jaundiced now. I don't dare give him more as it will render the analgesic useless, and he's in far too much pain to risk that. I'm buying him days at a time. Days that only serve to prolong his suffering." He spoke in a low, even tone, his eyes staring blankly ahead of him. "I could end it for him. Quickly and painlessly."

"No," Harry said. Severus glanced over as though surprised to find Harry still there. He frowned and returned his gaze to the pavement ahead of him. "Sev, I can see how you'd be tempted. I can't begin to understand what this is like for you, but please ..."

"I won't," Severus said. "I don't think I could summon up the strength I'd need to do it, and he's forbidden it," he said in a flat voice.

Harry remembered the look on Severus' face when he killed Dumbledore. He remembered the anguished aftermath from Severus' memories. He wanted desperately to pull the man into his arms and protect him, but he couldn't protect him from this. "What will you do when it's over?"

Severus looked at him uncomprehendingly and shook his head before looking away. "I haven't thought that far," he said.

Harry didn't believe him. It wasn't in Severus' make up to not plan ahead, and that the man wasn't sharing his plans made Harry distinctly nervous. "Come back to Britain," he pleaded. "Please, Severus. I can't bear the thought of you going through this alone."

Severus snorted. "There's nothing for me there."

"I'm there," Harry insisted. "I've always been there."

"For fuck's sake, Harry. When are you going to grow up and realise that Severus Snape is dead. You are chasing a ghost, you fool. You are nothing to me but a distant voice calling to some distant past that I have tried again and again to bury. The man you think you love is dead. Let him fucking rest in peace."

Severus stood, and turned to look down at Harry, who was busy reasoning with his heart that the man didn't mean it. That he was pushing him away to keep from getting hurt. Severus' eyes glittered in the light of the street lamps. "I don't want to see you again, Harry. I appreciate the help you've given me over the years, but it's time to burn the bridges now."

"No," Harry said, glaring at the man fiercely. "If you think it's going to be that easy, then you don't know me at all." Harry stood, and looked up at the man. "That bridge has served its purposes time and time again, and even if I didn't think I loved you, I would keep it open." Harry narrowed his eyes. "Unless there's some good reason that you believe you'll never need help again. What are you planning?"

"Go home, Harry," Severus sighed wearily.

"Are you planning to kill yourself? Do you think that pushing me away now will make it hurt less, you bastard? You think I won't find out and hate you for it?"

"You're an idiot," Severus growled. "Do you think I care if you hate me or not? What I do with my life is none of your concern."

"Who the fuck do you think helped you build this life?" Harry shouted back. "I may be nothing more than a distant voice, but I have done everything I could to help you. Every time you needed help, I was there. I'm fucking here now because you need help, and you're too thick to even recognise it."

An unpleasant smile curled on the man's lips. "My hero," the man sneered. "What are you going to do, Potter? Abandon wife and kids and job to sit vigil and ensure I don't snap and end it all? Do you truly think that if I've a mind to commit suicide you could stop me?"

Harry's gaze turned pleading. The conversation had veered off into strange and unnecessary directions. "Severus, I'm not here to fight with you," he said.

"I'm not here to fight with you either. I have more important things to do. Now, fuck off and let me get on with it." Severus turned and walked back into the building.


Severus looked up from his till when the bell on the door announced the arrival of a customer. He wasn't at all surprised to see Harry staring warily at him from the doorway. His green eyes blazed with hurt and concern, and Severus had a mind to blast them out of the stupid man's head. He had no room in his life for this man's pain. He had no use for his concern.

"Quelle surprise," he drawled, and sat back on the stool offering over an irritated look. "How many times do I need to tell you to fuck off before you listen?" Severus asked. His lip curled into a cold sneer.

"I'm going," Harry said stiffly.

Severus suppressed a look of surprise. "But you couldn't go without saying goodbye," Severus intoned in a bored voice.

Harry shook his head, lowering his eyes. "I don't deserve this, Severus. I get you are hurting and that your instinct is to cause as much pain in return as possible, but I don't deserve to be the target."

Severus tightened his jaw and buried the barrage of guilt. "You were not the target, Harry. As per your bad habit, you recklessly jumped into the line of fire. I told you to stay away," he said coldly.

Harry nodded. "David was worried about you. I'm still foolish enough to care," he muttered. He looked up again and met Severus' eyes. "For the life of me, I can't remember why."

"You confused your cock with your heart."

Harry shook his head and gave a mirthless snort. "And you?"

Severus scowled. "Residual guilt," he said sourly.

"Of course," Harry said with a small smile. "What else would it have been?" he added.

Severus frowned against a pang of guilt and sorrow. He couldn't look at the man directly, knowing perfectly well what his feigned indifference was doing to the man. Harry had been his constant. The one person who knew him and who loved him despite all that he was and all that he'd done. Severus had relied on the contact between them. It had served its purpose a number of times and now, he was deliberately severing it in an admittedly foolish attempt to ease his conscience. The bridge had become a burden.

"Severus," Harry said, barely above a whisper. "I know what this is doing to you. I know what this means to you, and I realise that the prospect of life after he's gone is bleak."

"Go away, Harry," Severus growled, his throat closing up and emotions threatening to surface. He took a calming breath and buried it all again. He would sort it out later, when there was time and distance enough to do so. If that time ever came...

Harry walked to the counter behind which Severus sat. "You were happy before him," he said. "You'd built this whole wonderful life, Sev, and you were happy. I know this is hard to believe right now, but you can be happy again. Not right away, but-"

"Kindly spare me your optimistic rubbish," Severus snapped. "I'm not going to kill myself, and if I did, it wouldn't be any of your concern."

"Have you really convinced yourself of that, or are you hoping that convincing me will help you to believe it? The few times we've seen each other over the past decade and a half, I have dropped everything the moment you needed me. Do you think I do that because of a mission given me by Dumbledore? I love you, you twat. You are my concern. You fucking know that," the man said angrily. "I'm not going to let you lie to yourself to make this easier for you."

The bell rang again, and Severus looked up to see Theda, come to relieve him of his post so he could go and tend to his invalid partner. The girl froze and looked between him and Harry. She offered over a rare smile in recognition, her red lips just curling at the edges. "Oh, it's you," she said.

"Just in time," Severus said irritably. "Thank you for dropping in, Harry, but I'm afraid I have other things to do just now. Perhaps next time you're in town," he said, coming out from behind the counter, and turning to escape out the door to his flat.

"I came to say goodbye to David," Harry said irritably and followed. Severus stopped and turned to glare down at him.

"He's unwell," he said, trying to keep his voice measured to avoid a scene.

"I realise that," Harry answered. "But as I'm here on his invitation, it would be rather remiss of me not to say goodbye. I won't be long." The determination in Harry's eyes brooked no argument. Without a word, Severus opened the door to let Harry pass, and then shut the door behind him. He cast a muffling spell.

"What the fuck are you playing at? You said you were going. I will not have you plague David with your ill-conceived fantasies, Potter."

Harry shook his head and laughed. "Do you think he doesn't already suspect? Why do you think I'm here? You forget that we've both seen what happens to you when you lose someone, Severus."

"I'm not twenty years old anymore, you idiot," Severus growled.

"No, you're a fifty-five year old man who will soon find himself alone without a mission this time to give his life purpose," Harry shouted back.

Severus' mind froze to a halt as he tried to find some way of countering the accusation. Harry's perspective was rather spot on, if he were honest. He watched the anger melt out of Harry's features, to be replaced by pity. Severus scowled.

"Please, Sev. You are not alone in this. I know what this means to you. You don't have to hide from me," Harry pleaded, hand reaching up to curl around Severus' shoulder.

Severus wanted to shrug off the man's hand, but couldn't bring himself to do it. Harry's touch was firm and reassuring. "I don't need your pity," he said, the words scratching past his dry throat.

"God, you're impossible," Harry sighed, but drew Severus into his arms, holding him tight. Harry was warm and strong. His heart beat steadily against Severus' chest. He embodied vitality. The power of the life flowing through the other man threatened to crumble all Severus' carefully constructed defences. Severus struggled to keep hold of himself, and trembled with the effort. Harry's hold on him tightened, his hand stroking down Severus' back.

"I have to go," Severus whispered, voice paralysed by the sheer power of the sorrow overtaking him. His hands tightened around Harry's coat, his nose buried in the man's neck as he breathed in the pleasant scent of life.

When Harry released him, Severus felt he might cry from the loss. He stared, unblinking, at the man, at the love in his face, the concern. He damned him silently for living a world away, for not being here when he so desperately needed someone to lend him the strength required to live through the last few months, weeks... An eternity.

Severus turned and silently climbed the steps up to his flat. He could no longer summon the irritation necessary to keep Harry from following. He knew that the effort would be wasted anyway. Harry was at least as stubborn as he.

As he entered the room, Susan stood from a chair at the bedside. She looked at him with a brave smile, and then her eyes turned toward Harry. Relief filled her expression, and the forced smile became sincere. "Susan, this is Harry. He's not staying long. Harry, this is David's sister."

"I can't tell you how happy I am to finally meet you," Susan said, crossing the room to offer her hand in greeting. Severus frowned at the woman, unable to understand how she could be so keen to satisfy an age-long curiosity given the circumstances. Harry's presence was a distraction, at best.

"Susan. I've heard a lot about you," Harry said with a kind smile. "I'm sorry we couldn't meet under better circumstances."

Severus left them to it, walking to the bed to look down at the sleeping figure. David's breath came in quick sharp gasps. His lips were pale and cracked.

"I managed to get some water into him," Susan said, coming up behind him. "He wasn't very coherent before he dropped off. I'll stay with him this afternoon, Hadrian. You could use the time away."

Severus frowned and shook his head to dismiss the suggestion. He sat down next to the man. "Theda is here for the afternoon. I'll try and get him to eat a bit later. You needn't stay," Severus said.

Susan put her hand on Severus' shoulder. "I'm staying. And you're not. Go and spend the afternoon with Harry," she ordered him.

"Harry has to go," Severus insisted.

"I don't," the man said treacherously. "I wasn't planning to leave until tomorrow."

"You see," Susan said. "Go on, Hadrian. I'll call you if we need you," she said kindly. Her expression grew hard when she could see that Severus wasn't inclined to obey. "You need a break from this. Go with Harry. Talk about other things. Get some food, drink a few bottles of wine. Do something else for awhile. David will be fine."

Severus glared between her and Harry, who had stepped closer to declare his willingness to conspire with the woman. "Just a few hours, all right?" Harry said quietly. "Please?"

Severus peered between the man and the woman suspiciously. His eyes narrowed. "If I didn't know better, I'd say this was planned," he said in a tone that suggested it would be best for all if they denied it.

"You're too clever by half," Harry said blandly. "Take me to lunch. I'll bore you with the details of my life since the last time I saw you and have you back before dinnertime."

"I have a shop to tend to, Harry."

"Theda will close up," Susan said. "And David will be upset if you're here when he wakes up. He put a lot of energy into organising everyone, and you wouldn't want that energy to be wasted. Now get out," Susan ordered, nodding toward the door.

Severus could refuse on the grounds that this was his flat, for fuck's sake, but there seemed to be little point. He couldn't stomach the thought of sitting here obstinately, only to be lectured by Susan all afternoon. The lecture would gain in volume when David woke up, assuming the man was coherent enough to notice him at all.

Severus conceded defeat and escorted Harry to the pizzeria where the Coven still presumably met on Thursday nights, although he'd not joined them since David learnt of his impending demise. Anna grew teary-eyed when she saw him and drew him down into an awkward hug. She informed him that she'd not let him leave until he'd gained at least ten pounds and seated him and Harry in a corner booth, well out the way of the lunch rush. They were offered a bottle of red, and ordered a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise for two. Harry resolutely disregarded Severus' furious looks and chatted away about his journey across the pond until the serving staff finally left them in peace.

"Please stop glaring at me," Harry said calmly, twirling his fork in a plate of pasta. "David called me last night after I left. He said that the two of you had rowed, and he begged me not to leave. What would you have me do?"

Severus frowned and sipped his wine. "I suppose you're going to tell me you would have left if he hadn't called," he said in a doubtful tone.

Harry looked at him. Annoyance flashed in his eyes. "Believe it or not, my life is not without complications at the moment. It's like you said, if you're determined to self-destruct, there's little I can do to stop you," Harry said harshly.

"Then why the fuck are we even here?" Severus hissed.

Harry offered a small smile. "Because David asked me to try again. And because everyone is worried about you, but are terrified to talk to you for fear of getting disembowelled."

Severus scowled. "Don't be absurd," he scoffed. His temper was short, it was true, but he managed to be civil with almost everyone. He simply had little use for their sympathy. For all their caring, David was still dying. Severus was still going to end up mercilessly alone. "I'm just not inclined to carry on about my feelings, which is what those women want me to do."

"Those women love you," Harry pointed out. "But I'm not here to talk about your feelings. In fact, I think we should ignore your feelings and talk about something else entirely. There's a lot to catch up on." The man offered a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"You presume I care what's going on in your life," Severus said disdainfully, aiming to wipe off the insincere smile.

Harry laughed. It was a bright sound that jarred the fog of death in which Severus existed. "No. I really don't. But that's never stopped me before."

Severus' brow creased at his failed attempt to wound the man. He took another sip of his wine and pushed his pasta around his plate. "Go on, then," he said, bored already at the prospect of listening to what passed as problems in this man's world. "Enthral me with tales of your complicated life."

The victory won by the hurt look on the man's face only served to make Severus feel more wretched. Severus abandoned his fork and drained his glass.

"Did you learn anything new with your research?" Harry asked, leaning back against the seat and looking at him with a guarded expression.

"Clearly not," Severus said. "Is this your idea of light-hearted conversation?"

Harry closed his eyes, his features perfectly schooled. It appeared as though the man had finally managed not to wear his heart on his sleeve. Or he was making an effort for Severus' sake. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. "Hermione said that you'd sent a few more articles that she'd not found in her research."

"As I have little use for them," Severus said with a shrug. "David requested that I stop searching for a miracle and passively watch him die," Severus said caustically. "So I gave up."

"Do you think you'd have found anything?" Harry asked.

Severus' jaw clenched. "Who knows?" he muttered. The truth was that without test subjects and a full potions lab at his disposal, he had little hope for finding a cure even if he'd had some theory to test. Given the tight deadline to which he was working, his failure had been inevitable. While he could admit that to himself, searching for an answer, however futile that search had been, had given him something to focus on apart from the slow demise of his companion.

"Hermione wanted me to thank you for the additional information you sent. She'd not had a chance to look through it properly, but she said there was some interesting information in there," Harry told him.

"Why is she still researching it? I understood her mother had recovered," Severus asked.

Harry shrugged. "She said that breast cancer runs in her family. She said that while theoretically it shouldn't affect her, there's not enough research to completely rule out the possibility, given that she's Muggle-born."

Severus shook his head. "It's not likely," he said. "There's enough information that shows that the gene that makes a person magical tends to impede the cellular mutation caused by cancer."

Harry gave him a blank look before shaking his head. "It's a pity that you and Hermione couldn't work on this together," he said. "If there was even the slightest possibility of finding an answer, the two of you would find it."

Severus frowned at his plate. "I contacted researchers all over the world. Flattered as I am by your inflated opinion of my abilities, I've been assured time and time again that it's a lost cause," he said bitterly.

"I'm not going to be able to say anything right, am I?" Harry said.

Severus scowled. "I did not ask you to stay," he pointed out.

Harry sighed and took up his glass. "I take it you've stopped reading the papers," he said.

Severus blinked at the apparent change of subject. It had been months since he'd taken an interest in anything outside his immediate sphere of concern. "Why do you assume that?"

Harry snorted. "You've not yet mentioned the divorce. I can't think it's out of sensitivity for my struggle," he said, infusing his tone with bitterness.

Severus was too astonished by the news to take offence at the tone with which it was given. "I thought you were waiting for the children to go to school," he said. A quick mental calculation told him that they were not yet at that point. "I take it your anonymous adventures were discovered," Severus said, finding enough disdain in his shock to properly power the words.

"No," Harry snapped. "We just decided there was little point in waiting. We've filed, but it's not official yet," he explained.

"Congratulations," Severus said dryly. He suspected that the man had already begun celebrating, and that thought made him want to hex someone. "I'm sure Arthur and Molly are thrilled," he added bitingly.

"They were okay, actually," said Harry with a small smile. At the sight of Severus' astonished expression, Harry launched into the tale of what was supposed to be a strategic and slow revelation of truths in small, digestible doses. He told how the situation quickly snowballed until he was outed as a struggling gay man to the whole Weasley tribe. The divorce came as a logical conclusion for all involved.

As he spoke, Severus forgot about his intention to make this lunch anything but unpleasant for the man. A small spark of interest brought his attention into sharp focus. It had been ages since he'd felt interest in much of anything at all, but this latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Harry Potter's life was a rare bit of good news. Severus latched onto it.

"So, you're divorced, but you've decided to stay together?" Severus asked, as perplexed by the man's living conditions as the rest of the Wizarding world.

Harry laughed. "Yeah. We get along really well, and couldn't see any real reason for either of us to leave. Neither of us want to put the kids through the hassle of splitting up their time. I expect I'll move into the study before long, but other than that..." Harry ended with a shrug and a silly smile.

It didn't occur to Severus that he was smiling until his cheek muscles complained from the effort. "I take it neither of you are dating," he said. There was a question inherent in his remark. He wasn't altogether sure he wanted an honest answer to it.

"We're taking things slowly," Harry said. "Ginny is more eager than I, but then, she's not been with a bloke in over two years." Harry's smile faded. His eyes dropped to his plate. "She's started going out a bit in the Wizarding world, but hasn't really been looking yet. I tend to stick to Muggle London," Harry said, not meeting his eye.

Severus found his sneer again. "Been exploring the scene?"

Harry snorted. "Some. I won that membership to that club ... I told you about that. I go there from time to time. It's quiet, and no one expects me to dance," he said with a wry smile.

"This would be your Pharaoh, then," Severus said, searching Harry's eyes. He was frustrated to find that he couldn't decipher anything there. When had that changed?

"Haytham," Harry said. "It's his club."

It didn't answer his question, but Severus was determined not to ask directly. He told himself that the answer to that question didn't concern him in the slightest. The stir of irritation in his gut said otherwise. "I'm happy for you," he said sardonically.

Harry laughed. "Cheers," he said, rolling his eyes. "You're such a prat, you know? What the hell do you care? You're the one trying hard to push me out of your life. If I happen to find comfort in someone else's bed, why should it concern you?"

"It doesn't," Severus fired back. "You could fuck half of London for all I care."

"So long as it's the male half, I just might," Harry snapped back.

Severus frowned and poured himself another glass. "Why didn't you tell me about any of this? I realise it isn't my business, but as I've been following the drama that is your life for an eternity now, I think you owe it to me to keep me informed," he complained.

Harry sighed. "It all started the weekend you called with the news. I didn't want to burden you with it. It seemed insensitive to bring it up," he said quietly.

Severus grunted. Truth be told, he'd not have been likely to take notice if the man had written to tell him. Severus had generally ignored anything that didn't concern cancer. For months his life centred on a search for a cure. Since being forced to abandon his quest in favour of enjoying the time he had left with his partner, Severus hadn't thought of much of anything at all. He worked and made certain David had all the potions he needed to make his life bearable. Now, even that effort had become futile.

As quickly as Harry's news had dispelled it, Death had regained its place at the edge of Severus' thoughts. "I wish you well," Severus muttered.

"Try again. You've almost convinced me," Harry said dryly.

"I apologise if you find my enthusiasm lacking. My partner is dying, Potter. As fascinating as the details of your budding sex life might be under different circumstances, you'll forgive me if my resentment at other people's happiness gets in the way of my joy at seeing you finally surrender your self-sacrificing ways."

"I forgive you. Apology accepted," Harry said soberly, making Severus want to smack him even as the corner of his mouth quirked up at the man's wholly inappropriate humour. Harry smiled in recognition of a joke shared and reached over the table to pull Severus' hand away from the stem of his wine glass. Harry's hand closed over his own. "Sev, it's good to see you. Even if you are a bastard."

Severus closed his eyes as Harry squeezed his hand. "I don't want to go through this again," Severus said quietly.

"Through what?"

"Grief. Loss. Being alone." Severus sighed, and leant put his head in his free hand. "I don't know how to be alone anymore, Harry. I'd been so careful for so many years. If I'd have just listened to my better sense –"

"You'd have stayed alone," Harry finished. "As painful as this is now, do you really regret the good times?"

"Gods, you're as insipid as Albus," Severus said, wrenching his hand out of Harry's grip. "Better to have loved and lost, is that it?" Severus glared over at the man.

Harry shrugged. "You tell me," he said. "Would you really rather not to have known him? I don't believe that. Not after everything you went through to keep him."

"For all the good it did me," Severus muttered. "I can't ever go through that again, Harry. It cost too much the first time."

Harry frowned. "I can see how you might feel that way now. It's far too soon to be thinking of a next time at this stage. Care for him for the time you have him. Mourn him when he passes. It's going to hurt, Severus, but eventually you'll heal. You're not alone in this."

Severus snorted. "And I suppose you'll be there for me, right? Are you going to take a holiday from your life to hold my hand through it all, Potter?"

"I was thinking about Susan. Or perhaps you think your pain is greater than hers?" Harry shot back.

"He is my whole life. She has her family –"

"And you have the Coven, who, in case you haven't noticed, love you very much. Even I can see that, and I've met them once," Harry said. "And you have me. I should think you'd have realised by now that if you ever need me, all you need to do is call." Harry took a deep breath. "All these people are there for you, and you are so determined to go it alone that you can't even see what's in front of you. Instead you push us all away because your pain is the only pain that matters."

"You're out of line, Harry," Severus said, in warning. His heart pounded angrily in his chest. He had a mind to hex the man.

"Am I? If I know you, you've already made plans to leave once he's gone. You know what they'll go through if they find you dead, and you care enough to want to spare them that."

"Enough, Potter."

"You'll probably claim that you need to get away. That it's too painful to stay in the flat you shared with him. You'll go away on holiday and just never come back, right?"

Severus sneered. "Got it all worked out, have you?" he said acidly. Never mind that the man had pretty much happened upon Severus' line of thinking – not that he'd made definitive plans. They were simply the thoughts that crossed his mind in the desperate hours spent contemplating what life might be like when the end finally came. He'd begun gathering the necessary ingredients for the potion he might use were it to come to that, but he'd not yet begun to brew it. He reasoned it was better to slip away quietly, without making a wave.

But for Harry and his inability to leave well enough alone, it might be possible.

"Have I?" Harry asked. "I sincerely hope not. I've lost enough people in my life."

"People get old, Harry. They die. I'm twenty years older than you. Eventually, I won't be around," Severus pointed out.

"People get old. They get sick. They die. I can deal with that. It's the thought of you deliberately inflicting that sort of pain on me that I take issue with," he said plainly.

"Pain. For fuck's sake, Harry. I'm not even a part of your life," Severus said incredulously. "As it is, if I get murdered tomorrow, it would take you years to realise I was gone. You'd not even miss me."

"After all these years, do you really believe that?" Harry said incredulously. He shook his head. "Do you remember the last time we saw each other? I was sure that David had insisted you choose between the two of us and equally sure that I had lost you. You asked me if I really thought so little of you." Harry's mouth twisted in humour at some thought. "After all these years, I should hope you know that I am not indifferent to you," he said blandly.

Severus recognised his own evasive declaration of affection. His heart grew heavier with the memory of it. He was well aware that Harry wouldn't be happy with him were he to disappear, but frankly, Harry had his own life to keep him occupied. Severus owed him nothing. If he kept telling himself that, he might eventually believe it.

"Promise me something," Harry said.

Severus raised an eyebrow, feeling quite certain that he would do no such thing.

"I can't ask you to live for me, Severus. You once told me that we can either accept the things that happen or we can't. Only you can decide whether or not you can live through this. For my part, I can't stand the thought of a world without you, but that's not your problem. I only ask that if you..." Harry swallowed and closed his eyes. "If you can't live with it, I want to know. I deserve that closure, Sev. Otherwise, I will look for you, and keep looking until I find you." Harry's eyes slid open, dazzlingly green and full of desperation. "Please."

Severus nodded, unsure whether or not he'd keep the promise, but he couldn't refuse outright if he had any hope of having peace in the months to come.

"Don't take that as permission to kill yourself," Harry said. "By which I mean if you even think about it, I'll hex you."

Severus gave a bland look, but the effort required to maintain it exhausted him. He was so tired, physically and mentally. The wine had only succeeded in exhausting him further. If he went home, he would have the option of sleeping on the sofa or sleeping next to a corpse that was barely clinging to life. David, for all intents and purposes, was already dead. As much as he dreaded the man's last breath, he thought he might feel at least a twinge of relief when it was finally expelled.

"I have a hotel room," Harry offered.

Severus blinked, wondering if he'd been thinking aloud.

"You look knackered. You could borrow the bed," he said. "I promise to keep my hands to myself," a small smile curled on his lips.

"I should get back," Severus said robotically.

"No one expects you for hours, Sev. You should get some rest and go back refreshed and ready to face what's there. Come on, just for a few hours. I'll do some sight-seeing and come back to wake you."

In the end, it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Harry stayed long enough to see him tucked into bed. He offered over a phial containing a mild sedative that he used to counter the time difference. Severus took it gratefully and slipped between the crisp, white sheets of the hotel bed. He emptied his mind of the worries that awaited him on the other side of sleep, and let himself be carried away.


"Harry!" Susan exclaimed as she opened the door. She shifted her eyes passed Harry's shoulder and wore a worried expression. "Things didn't go well?" she worried.

Harry offered a reassuring smile. "He's fine. He's sleeping. I told him I would wake him soon, but I wanted to try and talk to David before. Is he up?" Harry asked uncertainly. By all accounts the man had had a bad morning.

Susan shifted to let Harry in the apartment. David had moved to the sofa. The man looked over and smiled in recognition. "Harry. Is Hadrian with you?"

Harry walked over to sit by the man. "He's in my hotel room. Sleeping," Harry clarified. "He looked exhausted so I offered to let him use my room," Harry clarified awkwardly.

David nodded. "That's great. It should help, I think."

"I'll go and wake him soon. But I thought I'd come and say goodbye first," Harry said. It felt strange knowing that the goodbye would likely be definitive. David recognised that too and lowered his eyes.

Susan came over, carrying a cup with a straw. "Let's see how much of this you can handle," she said to her brother, holding the straw to his parched lips. He lifted his head from where it was propped on the arm of the sofa and accepted the plastic tube between his lips. He sucked weakly and then let his head fall back again, breathing laboriously. Susan placed the cup on the table and gave Harry a sad smile.

"I'll need to get back home soon," she told him apologetically.

"You can go, Susi. Harry will take care of me," David told her.

Harry felt a little panicked at being left to care for a dying man. He had no idea how to take care of the man, and by the look of him, one mistake might be the end of him. The prospect of Severus coming home to find Harry had killed his partner was not a happy one.

"You only need to try and keep him drinking," she told him. "We've already had some rice and got cleaned up," she said.

"I'll be fine," the man croaked plaintively. "Really."

"Okay," the woman said. "I'll stop in tomorrow at lunch to check on you," she said. Harry watched as the woman gathered her bag and overcoat. He stood as she came over. "It's was great to finally meet you, Harry. Thanks for your help."

Harry smiled weakly. He was quite certain he'd not helped anyone. Severus was no better off than before. He offered his hand to the woman. "It was good to meet you, too," he said cordially, but a little insincerely. It wasn't good to meet anyone in these circumstances.

She didn't seem to care that his response was lacking in truth. She pulled him into a hug, and told him that she hoped to see him again before bustling out of the room, leaving Harry alone with David. Harry picked up the cup and held it to David's lips. David sipped half-heartedly, and then shook his head.

"It's enough," he said. "Tell me about your afternoon."

"There wasn't much to it," Harry sighed. "We had lunch. He was irritable, scathing, and generally horrible. And so I sent him to bed. I stopped in to see Mary, and then wandered around town a bit before coming here."

David sighed. "Well, at least he's sleeping."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "How are you? Can I get you anything?"

"He doesn't mean to be horrible," David whispered.

Harry laughed at the idea of the man trying to explain Severus' behaviour to him, of all people. "David, he does. I suspect it's even worse because it's me, and he knows that I'll just take it."

"Did he talk to you?" David asked.

"Not much. But you know what he's like. I talked to him, but I don't know if I made any difference," Harry said, frowning. It was a lost cause. There was nothing he could say or do to make this any easier for Severus. He'd made his offer to be there for the man, but it was an offer he knew would be dismissed. Severus rarely asked for help, and it would never even occur to him to ask for help that wasn't tangible. Research, he'd ask for. A handy escort through time. Emotional support was not something Severus believed he needed.

"He hates not having something to do," David told him. "I should have let him carry on with his research. He was driving himself into an early grave, but at least he was focussed on something. I've thought about going to a hospice, you know. To make it easier for him and everyone else, but I'm afraid he'd stop working so that he could be with me, and that's the only thing that's keeping him sane at the moment."

"He'll be all right, David," Harry said. "He's strong." It was empty reassurance, but the man was dying, and it seemed unfair that he should worry about anything but that at the moment.

"Come on, Harry. We both know that's not true. Leave the empty platitudes to everyone else," David said. The man covered his eyes with his hand.

"I should go and wake him now," Harry said.

"Let him sleep a bit," David said. "God knows he doesn't get enough here." The man offered what could have been a wry grin, but fell dramatically short. "I leave you alone with my partner for a few hours and you take him to bed."

Harry's eyes widened. "David, I swear he's just sleeping," he said, horrified by the thought that David would suspect anything untoward.

David gave a weak, wheezy laugh. "I know," he said. "But at this point, I think I would feel grateful if it had been more. It might do him good." David looked at him a moment before asking, "How do you do it?"

Harry frowned. "Do what?"

"Being married to a woman," David said. "Hadrian told me that you and Ginny work around it. Are you happy?"

"Ah," Harry said hesitantly. "Gin and I are getting divorced," he confessed. "We worked around it as much as we could, but it didn't work." He gave a grim smile.

"Does Hadrian know?"

"I just told him," Harry said. "Had he been reading the papers, he'd have known about it. About the divorce, anyway. I'm not ... out, exactly."

"Good timing," David said.

"David," Harry said in an admonishing tone.

"Do you still love him?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" Harry said irritably. "Look, that ship sailed a long time ago. I love him, but I don't expect there will ever be more than there is now. Even if he survives this."

"Sorry. It's just I'd feel a bit better about dying if I knew he wasn't alone."

"I seriously doubt he'd rush into anything after you're gone anyway," Harry pointed out.

"That's the problem, isn't it? He'll probably never get into another relationship again. When you're hiding everything real about yourself, it's too complicated to maintain. Look what happened with us. Besides, if he continues on the way he's been going, no one will want him. He looks like shit and has the personality to match."

Harry couldn't argue with the man, but his assessment seemed a bit harsh. "He made a new start once. He might again," Harry said quietly, wishing he could make it true by saying it.

"Yeah," David breathed. "Maybe." The two men sat quietly ensconced in doubt for a long moment before David asked, "Could you help me to bed?"

Harry stood, and helped the man out of the folds of blankets. He thought he could easily carry the man over, but David stood shakily, clutching Harry's arm. They made their way slowly across the room. "He keeps the potions in there," David said pointing to a small black lockbox under the nightstand. "I need to take the blue one and the orange one," he instructed.

Harry bent down to slide the box out. It was warded, but the ward was a simple one. Harry got through it easily and found the box to be full of pre-dosed potions. He pulled the ones he was searching for and handed them over.

"This will put me to sleep," he said, shaking the phial of blue liquid. "I'll say goodbye now."

Harry nodded and sat on the bed beside the man. "I'm not sure what to say," Harry said. "Thank you, I suppose. For loving him. Whatever else happens, I'm happy he found you."

"Take care of him," David said, his eyes brimming with tears. "I've arranged some things to keep him busy for awhile once I'm gone, but after that..." The man swallowed. "Be there for him."

"Always," Harry said. In as much as he'll let me, remained unsaid.

The man sniffed before pulling the stopper from the phials, draining one and then the other in rapid succession. The phials disappeared once the liquid had been drained. His face curled in disgust, but his eyes became heavy almost immediately.

"Bye, Harry," the man said, eyes already slipping shut. "Thanks," he whispered before fading altogether.

Harry stared at the man a long moment, trying to recall what he'd looked like before. He only held a vague memory of him, enough to have been shocked by his appearance now. He silently hoped the man would find peace soon, despite his fears over what David's death would do to Severus. Death would be kinder than the half-life he lived now.

Harry closed the box of potions and re-activated the wards before disapparating to his hotel room, which was cast in darkness. The green light from the alarm clock made Severus' form visible. The soft, deep rhythm of sleep filled the room. Harry crawled onto the bed and lay alongside the other man. His hand moved to stroke Severus' shoulder.

"Sev?" he whispered, not particularly wanting to wake the man up. David was sleeping and would be fine for awhile.

Severus' hand slid over Harry's, bringing Harry's hand to his chest. He offered an incoherent moan. Harry smiled, and tightened his embrace, kissing the man's shoulder. "Severus," he said again, a little louder.

Severus raised his head. "Harry?" he said in a moment of confusion. His hand released Harry's, and he turned within Harry's embrace. Harry conjured a ball of light, and set it to hover over them. Severus' eyes glittered darkly as he looked into Harry's. "What time is it?" he breathed.

"Half seven," Harry answered. "Don't worry. David's fine. He's eaten, and I gave him his potions. He's sleeping."

Severus relaxed back to the pillow, closing his eyes. "You went to see him?" he mumbled.

"Yeah. Thought I'd say goodbye," he said. "Feeling better?"

"I could do with a few more hours," Severus said sleepily. He gave a great yawn.

Harry pushed his hair back from his face. "I could go back to the flat and look after him, if you'd like," he offered.

"No," Severus said. "I've already been gone too long."

Harry nodded. "I have to leave in the morning," he whispered. "It would be a lot easier if I knew you'd be all right." He stroked the man's gaunt cheek.

Severus' eyes opened to meet his. "I'm not the one who's dying."

"Promise?" Severus looked at him a long moment before closing his eyes. Harry frowned, and snaked his arm under the man's head. "Come here," he insisted, pulling the man toward him.

"What are you doing?" Severus said, resisting Harry's efforts.

"Just come here," he said, moving closer to the man. "I want to be close to you," he said with a sigh. "I'm not going to try anything."

"I have to get back," Severus insisted, but draped himself along Harry's side anyway, relaxing down with a long-suffering sigh.

Harry held the man tightly. "He doesn't need you to watch him sleep," he said, tilting his head up to bury his nose in Severus' hair. The man's strong smell overwhelmed his senses, awakening the memories of affection, love and desire that had lain dormant all these years. Sensory memory, they had once called it. It was magic in its purest form. After all these years, Harry still felt at home here in a way that he'd never felt even with Ginny.

Severus' hand lay over his heart, which beat out a code against his touch. Mercy, it begged. "Have I reminded you that I love you yet?" Harry asked.

"Probably," Severus said dully.

Harry smiled. "Have you heard me?" The question was barely a whisper and was nearly drowned out by the low hum of the fan in the room. "I can't say goodbye to you as well," he said quietly. He cleared his throat of sorrow and said, "I'm not above begging, Severus."

Severus snorted. "I know. I remember."

There was a note of smirking suggestion in the man's tone, and Harry gave a grateful laugh to hear it. It might have been the first sign that his Severus was in there somewhere, lost in the maelstrom of tragedy. "No one can make me beg quite like you," Harry conceded.

Severus grunted in amusement. "Shall I take that to mean you've sampled enough to be sure?"

"No," Harry admitted. "But I don't need to try all the wands in the world to know I like mine best."

"The wand chooses the Wizard," Severus quoted.

Harry kissed the top of the man's head. "Precisely."

Severus expelled a long breath. "You're a fool," he said. The insult lacked the bite of earlier in the day, and came out sounding just short of affectionate.

"It's part of my charm," Harry agreed. His fingers weaved between Severus'.

"So your Pharaoh can't make you beg?" The man sounded pleased at the perceived lack of abilities.

"It's not really his thing," Harry said.

"You are seeing him, then."

"I see him. When he's free. When I'm out. Once a month or so," Harry admitted, feeling awkward and inexplicably guilty.

Severus' throat rumbled in a low growl. Harry laughed. "I've lived enough of my life in celibacy," he argued. "And Haytham doesn't mind all the weirdness of my situation. He thinks it's funny."

"You told him?"

"Yeah. I told him I was married the first time we were together," he said. "It was actually Ginny who ran into him at a party and made him call me," Harry said wryly.

Severus lifted his head to favour Harry with an incredulous look. "Your wife is choosing your boyfriends?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "He's not my –" Harry sighed. "I was having second thoughts about coming out to everyone. She worried I was trying to 'sneak back into the closet' as she put it."

"Gods forbid," Severus drawled. He rolled away to lie on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Harry followed him, rolling to sling his arm over the man's chest. "I hope you'll be happy," the older man said quietly.

Harry pressed his lips to the man's shoulder. "I understand a bit better the difficulty of consorting with Muggles," he said. "I don't know how many questions I've had to answer with 'it's difficult to explain'."

"You try too hard to be honest," Severus surmised. "The less you share of yourself, the fewer questions they'll have. Of course, it's a lot easier to remain obscure if there are no repeat performances."

Harry snorted. "Yeah. One night stands aren't my cup of tea," he said.

Severus stroked his arm. "It'll get easier," he predicted. "Or you can move into the Wizarding world where honesty won't be an issue." There was a long silence between them. Harry tightened his hold on the other man, an old, familiar mantra chanting loudly through his mind. All is well, it said.

"I can't do it again, Harry," Severus said in a flat tone that sliced through Harry's heart.

Harry took a deep breath, trying to find something resembling optimism in the hopeless mess inside him. "Then don’t," he prayed. He cleared his throat and said, "Move back to the chalet. I'll keep you as my lover. I'll come and spend the weekends and holidays with you," he suggested, tongue firmly in cheek.

Severus laughed. The sound was as precious as it was rare. "I'll take a job as a ski instructor, shall I?"

Harry groaned. "That might keep the tourists away," he said dryly. "Or you can spend your time brewing. Set up a mail order potions thing. We'll both retire after a few years, and move to some secluded island where I can take care of you for the rest of our lives."

It was an empty dream, but a pleasant one, all the same. Harry felt pleased that Severus had indulged him this far. At the sound of a heavy sigh, Harry knew that the indulgence was over. "Harry –"

"Shh..." Harry bid, stroking the man's chest. "It costs nothing to dream, Sev," he said adamantly. "Just try and let yourself imagine happiness at the end of all this. I know it's hard, and it's not going to get easier. But you have to believe it's possible."

"Imagining happiness after this is tantamount to wishing him dead, Harry," Severus said.

Harry lifted his head to meet the man's eyes. "That's ridiculous," he said. "It's accepting the inevitable and finding a way to get through it. And you have to get through it, Severus. I know you don't wish him dead. I don't wish him dead either. But for both of your sakes, I hope it ends quickly. It's not the same thing."

Severus glared at him a moment before closing his eyes. Harry propped himself up with his elbow and stroked his face. "I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you. You can't ever forget that," Harry pleaded.

Severus placed his hand on Harry's own, holding it to his face. "No matter how hard I try," he said in a low voice.

Harry snorted and leant down to kiss his forehead. "Prat," he said fondly.

"I seem to recall you promising to keep your hands to yourself," Severus commented dryly.

Harry laughed and lay back down against the man's shoulder. "You should know better than to take those promises seriously. Besides, you look like you could use a cuddle," Harry teased.

"Hm," Severus grunted. He stroked Harry's head. "I should go back."

"All right," Harry said. "Do you feel any better?"

"I suppose you expect that an afternoon with you is enough to resolve the world's troubles?" Severus intoned.

Harry grinned. "Isn't it?" he asked cheekily. "No, stupid. But a bit of sleep might help to handle them better. And you've not insulted me in at least 10 minutes. I'd say that was progress."

Severus pressed his lips to the top of Harry's head. Harry could hear him take a deep breath. He smiled. "Perhaps," Severus said. He pushed Harry away and slipped out of the bed, stretching up. Harry turned on the lights, and sat watching the man dress.

His troubles may not be resolved, but the improvement to the man's general aura was visibly better. He no longer radiated menace as before. He had a bit of colour in his face and the flat, dead look in his eyes was gone. He was still far too thin, and reminded Harry painfully of the way Severus looked when he was playing double agent for the cause. Harry had a small amount of hope, however, that the man would recover. He clung to that hope desperately.

Severus met his eyes with a sober expression. "Thank you, Harry," he said quietly.

Harry crawled out of the bed and stood before the man, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close. "You'll call before you let it get so bad," Harry said. It wasn't a request. It was an order.

"I don't often have anything to say," Severus sad in a low voice, resting his chin on Harry's shoulder.

"Then don't say anything. I can talk for the both of us."

"You can at that," Severus grumbled. He wore a small smile when he pulled away. "Safe travels."

"I'll see you soon," Harry said, meeting his eye to communicate the warning inherent in the words.

Severus nodded and stepped away. A moment later, he was gone.

Chapter Text

27 December 2015

Dear Harry,

I write this from the hospice where David has been brought to die. Having gone from bad to worse since you left, Susan and I took the decision to admit him. He can no longer eat. The only liquid we can put into him is that which has been dribbled into his mouth with the aid of a cloth. He alternates between fretful sleep and wakeful dementia. There is naught left to do but sit and wait for the end to come. It is a matter of days now, if not hours.

I'm looking forward to the end. David, as I knew him, is no longer there. It is merely his body that has not yet followed him into death. I sit here, hour after wretched hour, waiting for the incessant beeping that monitors him to cease at last. I've closed the shop for these final days, although I can't say what good it's done. He doesn't seem to notice that anyone is here and doesn't recognise me at all. I suppose it's for my benefit. I feel compelled to stay with him until the end.

His parents arrived yesterday. If you ever doubted that I have calmed over the years, I can tell you that the restraint I have shown by not blasting them out of the room is remarkable. Neither of them will acknowledge me, for, in doing so, they may have to accept the fact that their son is gay. His mother, Joan, prays to God to save his soul and forgive him for the man he'd been. His father stares dumbly at his frail form and says nothing.

I have begun making arrangements for his funeral with the help of Susan. He'll be cremated. He told me that he's left strict instructions in his will for what should be done with his ashes, but wouldn't offer any details beyond that. His last moments of lucidity were spent pleading with me to return to Britain. To you. In retrospect, I should have agreed with him, if only to offer him peace of mind.

I have no plans beyond this. Beyond the funeral and the wake, there is only obscurity. You told me to imagine happiness at the end of this long, bleak tunnel, but it's difficult to imagine the impossible. It would be just as easy to imagine the sun going out. My mind simply cannot shape a possible future without him.

Don't worry for me, Harry. I write this for cathartic purposes. I write this to give myself something to do other than sit here waiting for the final death rattle. I write this, above all, out of some base instinct toward self-preservation. You have healing powers, Mr Potter. I attribute it to a persistent light of optimism you possess which goes against all reason. It's what defines you for me. It is what I love and loathe about you.

I will send word when it is over and, as promised, tell you of my plans when I manage to think so far ahead.

Greetings from Purgatory,

5 January 2016


I've tried to ring you a dozen times since receiving your letter, only to get your voicemail again and again. I suppose it's not surprising, but it's frustrating all the same. I hesitate to come there, but I know you'll be busy making preparations, and I don't want to be in the way. I'd have a hard time explaining the trip to Ginny and my boss, but I'll think of something if you want me there.

If I don't hear from you soon, I'll come anyway.

Please ring me.


15 January 2016

Dear Harry,

It's over. David passed just before midnight on December 30th. The funeral was as sombre an affair as one might expect. I managed to make it through it, and then made an appearance at the wake. I didn't know half the people who came. The reading of the will was this afternoon.

I'm all right. Please don't come here, as I have too much to sort out without entertaining house guests. There are enough people around concerning themselves with my well-being. I've considered putting a Muggle repelling charm on my flat to get a moment's peace.

As ever, all is well.


23 January 2016

Dear Severus,

As sorry as I am for your loss, I'm happy that the wait is over. For both you and David. I'll respect your request that I stay away, but on the condition that you do not close yourself up with just your pain for company. Go out. See your friends. I know it doesn't help to take the pain away, but it will help you keep up the habit of living.

My heart and my thoughts are with you. As trite as that saying is, I can assure you it's painfully sincere in my case. I wish I could be there with you through this. As soon as you're ready for me, let me know.

And turn on your bloody phone.


24 February 2016

Dear Sev,

It's official. I am a single man. It would certainly amuse you to imagine the flood of owls I've received from amorous witches declaring their readiness to fill the hole in my love life. They send me their knickers, Severus. Their KNICKERS.

It will be a relief when I'm finally able to disappoint them. I can't say when the announcement will be made. Ginny suggests I don't make an announcement at all. She thinks I should publicly date both men and women for awhile and keep them guessing. I don’t feel comfortable with the thought of leading the women on, but Ginny says they'd only be dating my name anyway, so I shouldn't feel bad.

I imagine she's right, but it's a little callous to say so.

I haven't heard from you. I'm trying to keep in mind that you're grieving. You need space and time to adjust, and on the list of priorities, responding to me is not likely at the top. I'm trying to stay patient, but patience has never been my strong suit. Please send me something. Even if it's just a blank page.


4 April 2016


I've passed the point of worry. Please send word.

Persistently yours,

"Herbs and Arts. This is Mary."

"Mary? Hi, this is Harry, Hadrian's friend."

"Oh, thank goodness. We've been worried sick!" the woman exclaimed. "How is he?"

Harry's mouth fell open. A sickening dread swirled in his stomach. "What do you mean?" he asked, barely able to form the words.

"What do I mean?" she repeated. "Isn't he with you?"

Harry shook his head dumbly.

"Harry?" A pleading tone begged him to confirm the truth she'd held to.

"I've been trying to reach him for months," he said dully. "I've not heard from him since David died."

"Oh, god," she breathed. "He told us he was going to stay with you for awhile."

Harry swallowed thickly. He cleared his throat to ask, "How long has he been gone?"

"About two months," Mary replied, her voice going tight. "Oh, Harry. You don't think-"

"I don't know," Harry said firmly. He took a deep breath. "I ... I need to-" He took a moment to calm the torrent of thoughts and fears. His mind recoiled from the thought that the man may have finally given up. Harry had to believe that Severus wouldn't betray him like that. The man had promised, and while a promise from a Slytherin wasn't worth much, Harry needed to believe that he meant more to Severus than this. "I'll look into it," he said thickly. "I'll let you know what I find out."

"If I hear anything, how will I reach you?"

Harry gave the woman his mobile number and hung up. He weighed his options. He could phone Interpol and have Hadrian Prince's travel checked, but if Severus was alive, he'd not appreciate the involvement of the authorities, and Harry couldn't be sure if Severus would travel by Muggle means. There were few countries that registered the movements of wizards, and even fewer with whom Britain had agreements.

In the end, he decided on the simplest route. If that didn't work, he'd explore more official avenues.


2 May 2016


I've spoken with Mary. You made a promise to me, and I hold you to that promise.

This owl will be quite belligerent until you respond.


1 June 2016

I've sworn off killing innocent creatures. I may rethink that if you ever pull something like this again. By my estimate, I have fulfilled my once-a-year obligation to you. I'm busy. Leave me alone.

Harry balled the scrap of paper up in his fist, torn between relief and irritation. Relief won out in the end. The man was alive and, by the sound of things, as well as he ever was. He wondered where Severus was and what had him so busy, but these questions were secondary to the knowledge that the man still breathed.

Harry chose to interpret the order to leave the man alone as a warning not to expect a reply until 2017. Harry did not intend to leave the man alone. In fact, Harry thought it best to remind the man, as often as possible, that he was far from alone.

Starting as he meant to go on, Harry picked up parchment and quill.

15 June 2016


The penalty for killing a Ministry owl is ten years in Azkaban.

I won't remind you that if I resort to extreme measures, you only have yourself to blame. It's true that you've written to me this year and so age-old obligations have been filled. My apologies for my impatience. I shall endeavour to do better in future.

I will call to let Mary know that you're all right. She'll wonder where you are and what it is that has you so busy, but alas, I shall have to wait until 2017 to answer her questions (assuming you see fit to satisfy my curiosity). I'm sure she'll reassure the rest of your friends that you're alive. I'm certain they'll be thrilled, if not somewhat hurt at having been lied to. Judging by the time it took for your response to get here, I doubt very much that you've returned to Britain.

Surly bastard that you are, I'm happy to have heard from you. I can now go on with my life without the random attacks of dread that have plagued me these last few months. If I write to you, it's because I care. My feelings for you may be inconvenient to you, but you'll simply have to tolerate it. I will continue to care no matter how much you try and push me away. I should think you know that by now.


13 July 2016

Shock and horror. I'm sending you an article that may just make you smile. For the record, the whole thing was staged. -Harry


In December, the Wizarding World was stunned by the unexpected announcement of Harry and Ginevra Potter's decision to divorce, citing irreconcilable differences as the cause. We were further puzzled by the fact that despite these differences, the couple has opted to continue cohabiting. We have watched, fascinated, as the former couple has added credence to their claim that they remain the best of friends by frequently being seen together in public, each with their respective dates.

This unconventional story of love and friendship once again capture the world's attention when the couple arrived at Wednesday night's Department of Magical Cooperation Gala – Ginevra, on the arm of Quidditch Today photographer, Dylan Bryant, and Harry, with none other than Edward Pike, star Seeker for the Wimbourne Wasps.

A friendly outing of Quidditch Enthusiasts? We were tempted to think so until Potter and Pike took to the dance floor to sway closely along to Wanda Soulbright's, 'It must be Dark Magic'. When we inquired about the apparent radical lifestyle change, the Saviour of the Wizarding World commented that, "The biggest lifestyle change for me has been finding myself on the dating scene for the first time in my life." When asked if his attraction for men was a new development, Potter replied, "You know, I never liked oysters until I tried them." He declined any further comment.

Pike, who is renowned for his moves both on and off the pitch, confessed he was pleasantly surprised when Harry invited him to attend the night's celebrations. The two men were introduced earlier this summer during a soirée hosted by Quidditch Today. "Harry's not looking for anything serious right now," Pike told us. "He's having a bit of fun, and I'm happy to help in any way I can."

Could this be the real reason behind the Potter's precipitous divorce? We asked Ginevra what she thought of her ex-husband's choice in companions. "He's got great taste, hasn't he?" she said wryly. "I know this comes as a shock to you lot, but Harry's always been attracted to both men and women. It's something the two of us have in common. Frankly, I don't care who he ends up with as long as he's happy."

Despite the erstwhile surprise at finding the Saviour of the Wizarding World in the arms of another man, it was difficult to find anyone who would disagree with Ms Potter's sentiments. The only dissension we could find came from Potter's superior, MLE head George Paisley, who renounced Potter's theatrics as being attention-seeking and detracting away from the important message behind the evening's festivity: the importance of the International Wizarding world's continued cooperation.

Paisley's own speech at the Gala expressed disappointment in what he called "the misdirected energy of the Ministry." "The war is long over," Paisley said. "We must now turn the page and stop spending time and money on campaigns that no longer make sense. We must come together now and build a stronger, more prosperous future." Paisley, who has so far denied the rumours that he's positing himself to replace Kingsley Shacklebolt in 2018, refused to comment on the accusation that his own political posturing might have detracted from the evening's non-political message far more than Potter's choice of dates.


2 September 2016

Dear you,

I wish I knew where you were.

Yesterday, I took my eldest son to Platform 9 and ¾. I'm now feeling sentimental and indescribably depressed. Looking at him, it's hard to imagine him alone at Hogwarts. I tell myself that there are plenty of teachers around to watch over him, but Hogwarts was never exactly a safe place. Even apart from Voldemort, when I think of the number of times I was nearly killed in my first year alone: the Troll, Fluffy, my first Quidditch match with Quirrell... My son doesn't have you there to keep him alive.

I know I shouldn't worry. I'm sure he'll make it out all right. I'm not daft enough to give him the Invisibility Cloak to aide his inherent mischievousness, so he'll have a lot harder time than I had getting past Filch and Mrs Norris. I just can't help but think he's my son, and so will naturally become a target for any random student (read: Slytherin) with a personal vendetta against me.

Watching him go, I couldn't help remembering the day he was born, which got me thinking of the year that preceded that happy event. And you. You, above all.

You're a constant in my life. Even when you're not with me, or not talking to me, you're here. In my head. In my conscience. It's enough to know you're out there somewhere, and when I think that there may come a time when you either tire of being there or tire of being (full stop), I start to feel panicked and sick. It's foolish, you'd say. I can't even explain it to myself. I have a life apart from you. I have my family and my extended family. I have friends, old and new. I have even begun dating – both privately and publicly.

After all this time, I still cannot get through one single night out with someone else without comparing him to you. It's absurd. There is not one of them who has called me an idiot or accused me of being a fool. I have not once had to chase any of them around like a lost puppy, pleading with them for just one sign that they care that I'm alive. These are men with whom I might pursue a healthy relationship, if that was what I wanted.

And yet, I write to you, month after month, with the ridiculously optimistic hope that someday you might write back to me. I am the fool that you always accused me of being. In those moments when my foolishness becomes painfully clear to me, I convince myself that I can't do this anymore. I'm too old to chase the unattainable, and I've begun to question my self-respect. You will never appreciate my presence in your life, and you consistently refuse to be part of mine. I couldn't count the number of times you've injured me, but I'm fairly certain it outweighs the number of times you saved me.

Despite it all, I miss you. I'm terrified that I will never hear from you again. I know my life will go on. Eventually, I imagine I'll stop wondering what happened to you. I hope, one day, that I'll manage to pursue a meaningful relationship with someone without feeling like it could be so much better if only they were a little bit darker, a little bit kinkier, a bit cleverer or just that little bit more tormented.

I suppose I truly am a masochist at heart. I'm sure there's some deep, psychological reason for my inability to let you go – probably something to do with having grown up unloved, or something equally pathetic. Whatever the reason, I remain

Yours truly (and truly yours),


"Bugger," Ginny said as soon as she unrolled the Saturday Prophet.

Harry looked up from his toast. He watched as Ginny's face grew increasingly irritated as she read through whatever trash had been published. "Well, she's outdone herself this time," she said darkly. "Sorry, Harry."

Harry took a deep breath before accepting the paper from Ginny. The first thing that grabbed his attention was the photo, taken the night before at a party he'd attended with Haytham. He watched himself being repeatedly drawn into an embrace by his arse, while he fed his tongue to the other man. He cringed and looked at the headline: "The Truth is Out". Rita Skeeter winked up at him from the photo. He glared back a moment before reading.

She didn't have much of a story, to be fair. He had been fastidiously discreet before the divorce was finalized, and all Skeeter had to go on was infrequent appearances at a "seedy, exclusively gay club" in the company of its owner. She accurately speculated that the "affair" had begun well before he and Ginny filed for divorce and probably as early as January 2015, "when Potter made a spectacle of himself at a costume party (see photos on page 3)."

Harry groaned and opened the paper to see the black and white Muggle photograph of himself posing campily on stage. "Shit," he whispered. His mind stretched across Britain to where Molly and Arthur were sitting for the children, and then north to where James would surely be teased mercilessly about his father's lack of decorum. He could only feel somewhat thankful that Severus was no longer a teacher at the school, for the children would be bad enough to contend with.

"She doesn't seem to have much," Ginny said, attempting to sound hopeful.

"She's got enough," he said grimly. "Paisley's going to have a fit," he realised aloud. His boss was becoming increasingly pissy about the press Harry'd been getting in the last few months, which stole the spotlight away from his campaign. He'd already threatened disciplinary action over Harry's "behaviour" at the gala in July. Strangely, the prospect of losing his job was not as troubling as it might have once been.

"Who cares?" Ginny said.

Harry wrinkled his nose. "I wouldn't mind so much were it not for the picture of me prancing around in my pants," he said with a rueful smile.

Ginny grinned. "It was some of my finer work," she said. "We'll send in our own photos, show that we were together that night. I looked fantastic."

Harry snorted. "Great. I'm sure James would appreciate both his mother and his father being well-known for their slutty ways," Harry sighed.

She gave him a sympathetic look. "We'll write to him tomorrow anyway and give him an explanation. He won't be surprised you're dating men."

"No, but to have to see it on the front page of the Prophet is a bit too much for any kid," Harry pointed out.

"You look hot," Ginny said with a wicked grin.

"Thanks. That helps," Harry said with a bland look. He buried his face in his hands and sought for calm. It had been a mistake to let go of the cloaking spell. He'd been lulled into a false sense of security in the Muggle world and, once he'd come out in the Wizarding World, he'd made the decision to stop hiding all together. In retrospect, it was a bad decision.

"It looks like this has been in the works for awhile," Ginny said, perusing the article again. "She's been talking to the staff."

Harry nodded. "I need to talk to Haytham, but I have no idea what to even say to him. It's not like I can show him the article."

"Harry?" Hermione's voice sounded from the front room. Harry and Ginny exchanged looks before Harry went to meet her, still wearing what he'd worn the night before.

"Hey," he said, looking down at the bushy head of Hermione. He lowered himself to sit before the fire.

"You saw it?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"I should have crushed that woman when I had a chance," she growled.

"If it hadn't been her, it would have been someone else," Ginny said, sinking to the floor beside Harry. She stroked his back.

Hermione gave him a grim look. "Paisley's going to have your head for this," she said helpfully.

"Paisley can try," Ginny said fiercely. "It's not Harry's fault that he can't make a move without it making national news."

Harry sighed. "I don't care if he fires me," he said wearily. "Frankly, he'd be doing me a favour," he added.

"Don't say that," Hermione chastised. "I don't even want to think of what would happen to the department if you weren't there. Kingsley wouldn't let him get rid of you anyway."

"It's not his call. He completely discredits Paisley if he intervenes," Harry said.

"Everyone knows he's useless. There'd be mutiny," Hermione assured him.

Harry shrugged. His job was truly the least of his worries. "I'm more worried about James," Harry said.

He could hear Ron hissing in the background. Hermione batted him away. At length, she sighed. "Ron wants to know how much of the article was true," she said.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other. "We both entered the costume contest. You should have seen me! I'll show you pictures later," Ginny said, distracting them from the larger question. "Both of us won that night. We didn't go back to the club for ages after, right Harry?"

Harry smiled at her.

"See, I told you, Ron," Hermione said. "You can't trust a thing that woman says." She turned back to Harry and lowered her voice. "He's really cute. Is he a Muggle? How long have you been seeing him? Are those the clothes you were wearing last night?"

Harry blinked and laughed. "He's a Muggle. I only see him once a month or so when the kids go to Molly."

"And those are the clothes he was wearing last night," Ginny offered with a wicked grin.

"Why didn't you tell us you were seeing someone?" Hermione said with a frown.

Harry rolled his eyes. "We're not seeing each other," he insisted. "We ..."

"You should see his face when he calls. You can see his grin from space."

"She's exaggerating," Harry said.

"I'm not."

"When can we meet him?"

Harry gave the woman an annoyed look and sighed. He couldn't say exactly what made him reluctant to introduce Haytham to his friends, but the idea made some part of him recoil. Haytham was his secret. Had been his secret, until now. "Look, it's nothing serious, okay? There's no reason to introduce him to anyone," he insisted. He stood, intent on escaping any further interrogation until he had a chance to get his head in order.

"We should all go out one night," Hermione said to Ginny as though Harry hadn't spoken. "How's Dylan?" she asked with a grin.

Harry left the two women to their excitable discussion. He wanted to get washed and take some time to think about this latest invasion into his private affairs. It was one thing to have his public life plastered all over the press when he was orchestrating it. It was quite another to have his presumably private moments pop up in the Prophet.

He ought to have known better. He'd exercised a little caution, disapparating under Disillusionment charms and trying to steer clear of truly public displays, but somewhere he slipped up. They were able to find out where he was going and follow him. Furthermore, they managed to gain entrance to a private party in order to photograph him in the act, as it were. That was more troubling. It smacked of an organisation and a level of tracking that made Harry's hair stand on end.

Only the Ministry tracked Apparition. All Aurors and Ministry officials were monitored. It was necessary for their safety. As disconcerting as he once found the idea, Harry could see the practical reasoning behind it. That the information was being used toward these sensationalist purposes was unacceptable. He'd be having a discussion with Marcel Travers, the Minister of Magical Transport, on Monday.

Having his movements tracked by those who had no business tracking him was bothersome, but at least he knew how to deal with that part. It was less clear to him what to do about Haytham and the fact that his once well-kept secret was now a matter of public knowledge. He'd deliberately maintained the frequencies of his meetings with the man to once a month to avoid calling attention to his affair with the Muggle.

It wasn't so much out of fear of public opinion. So far, the Wizarding world had taken the idea of him with other men in stride. There had been a bit of shock and a few letters expressing contempt at his apparent 'promiscuity' and 'indecisiveness', but those were easily dismissed and ignored. Then again, the public opinion of his change in lifestyle hadn't yet been tested as, thus far, all the known encounters had stayed in the realm of amicable. Although the photo in the Prophet had only showed the two men kissing, the body language displayed clearly communicated that the kiss was merely a prelude to something more pleasurable.

As the water beat down on the top of his head, and his hands were occupied in scrubbing a night of sex and booze from his skin, Harry's mind busied itself with examining the situation and trying to imagine all possible consequences. The probability that his boss would use his indiscretion as a cause for dismissal came to the forefront and was dismissed as largely inconsequential. The freedom to speak his mind that would come from losing his job would be well worth the cost. The torment his eldest son may have to endure from his classmates was much more difficult to dismiss, but there wasn't a lot he could do about that. They had discussed the concept of press with their son before he went to school. They'd warned him something like this was possible.

And then there was his relationship with Haytham. The article was bound to make any further encounters far more delicate to organise if Harry wanted them to remain private. Even if he decided not to see Haytham any longer – which he wasn't sure he was prepared to do – Haytham himself would soon become the subject of scrutiny. Apart from the two days a month Harry spent in the man's company, and the occasional Happy Hour in the week, he had no idea what Haytham did with his time. Harry was quite content in his ignorance. Although they never really spoke about it, Harry was reasonably sure that he wasn't the man's only lover. Harry's own apparent fidelity was more out of reluctance to go and meet someone else. Now that Haytham was unwittingly in the spotlight, Harry could be reasonably certain that the other man's movements would be watched as closely as his own.

It was a mess, frankly, and Harry bitterly cursed the lot of them for taking away his rare moments of relative honesty. The club and, more importantly, Haytham, had become a sort of safe place for Harry to be all that he couldn't dare be in the Wizarding world. And while it was true that he sometimes yearned for the full honesty he had with Severus, the rapport he had with Haytham had managed to carry him over the past year.

It wasn't fair, he lamented uselessly. He filled the roles that were his to fill. He did so faithfully and with minimal complaint. It wasn't fair that he should have to give up to public view the one bit of his life that was his and his alone.

If he carried on, despite them all, his poor kid would have to be regularly confronted with evidence of his parents' split every time he had his breakfast. Or else, Harry would have to be so cautious and careful that the enjoyment to be gained from his affair would be irreparably spoiled. He wouldn't even be able to explain to Haytham why he could no longer appear in public with the man. His reluctance might be interpreted as shame, and eventually, Haytham would tire of being kept in the closet, as it were.

The idea of stopping altogether was equally daunting. While he wouldn't characterise his feelings for the man as 'love', he could admit to being smitten. Haytham was charming and sexy and had a way of looking at Harry that made Harry feel like the only man in the world when they were together. It was nice to be looked at with a sort of reverence that had nothing to do with what he accomplished as a child. Haytham liked Harry. Just Harry.

Harry turned off the water and stepped out onto the mat, feeling generally worse than he had before thinking things through. Ginny and he had originally made plans to go to lunch and do some shopping that afternoon, but he couldn't face the thought of going in public just yet. The longer he thought about it, the wearier he became. The lack of sleep and the rude awakening had taken their toll, and Harry now longed for bed. Perhaps after a kip, his situation wouldn't look so wretched.

Perhaps sleep, he told himself, would bring a solution.


"Harry?" Harry blinked up at Ginny who was looking at him with a wary look. "Firecall. It's Paisley," she said, wrinkling her nose.

Harry groaned as he rolled out of bed, pulling on a pair of trousers and a t-shirt before padding toward where the swollen, red face of his ineffective boss glared up at him from green flames.

"Sir," Harry greeted him, trying to look resolute and contrite at the same time.

"Explain yourself, Potter," the man said.

Harry looked at the man a long moment. "What would you like me to explain?" he said before clenching his jaw to avoid tacking on the word 'tosser' to the end of his question.

"I take it you've seen the Prophet," Paisley said, his voice gaining volume and quivering slightly with poorly repressed anger.

Harry nodded. "I have," he said.

"You are the Head of the Aurors, Potter. You are the face of our department. And yet, week after week, there is one scandal after another with you. How do you expect me to handle this?"

Harry gave the man a steady look. "Handle what, exactly?" he said, managing to contain his own disgust for the man.

"Handle what?" The man sputtered a moment before managing to say, "What am I meant to do with an Auror who can't keep his private life from appearing in the papers every other bloody day? We have important business, Potter. Important work to be done, and you're so busy tending your social life that ... Well, I'm not so sure you have time to devote to your job."

Harry narrowed his eyes. Cold anger coursed through him. "Nothing I do in my private life affects my job performance, sir. I think my record speaks for that."

"It reflects badly on us all, Potter. Like it or not, you are a public figure. What you do reflects on the Department and on the Ministry. This type of scandal-"

"I was photographed kissing someone, sir. I can't see how that constitutes a scandal. We are consenting adults, and I am a single man. I fail to see the problem." Harry's voice gained a hard edge that only seemed to wind the man up further.

"Now, see here, Potter. You see here. I have tried to remain patient. I have given you every chance to stop making a spectacle of yourself, and still, every time I turn around, your face is plastered all over the news-"

"And you would rather it be your own. There's nothing I can do about that, sir. The media follow what sells," Harry explained slowly.

"I will not stand for this impertinence. I've given you every chance, Potter. Every chance. I made you what you are-"

"With all due respect, Paisley, I rather think my notoriety preceded my position as Head Auror," Harry said nastily. "And we both know that you counted on cashing in on my notoriety to further your political ambition. I have accepted that as a necessary condition of doing a job I love. A job I do exceedingly well, by all accounts."

The man's eyes bulged out. "Well," he spat. "Well, we'll see about that, then, won't we? I expect you in my office Monday at 8 o'clock. Not a second later."

"If you're going to sack me, sir, I'd just as soon have a lie in." Harry said lazily.

Paisley was livid with rage, and for a moment couldn't manage to speak. "Eight o'clock!" he shouted again and then disappeared.

Harry grinned. He couldn't help himself. There was something liberating about finally telling the man what he thought. He could do nothing about his private life being at the mercy of reporters, but there was no reason he should have to take grief from a man who had become to the MLE what Fudge had been to the Ministry as a whole. The only thing that had kept the man's incompetence from doing damage to the department was the fact that those under him paid no heed to his ridiculous directives and continued to manage things despite the man.

Well, no more. The man had dug his own grave, and Harry thought it would be a matter of months before he was exposed for the useless idiot Harry knew him to be. At least one good thing would come from the Skeeter article.

"Well, that was subtle," Ginny said from the hallway. She flashed an amused smile.

Harry shrugged. "Fucking twat," he cursed and stood. "He'll regret it."

Ginny shook her head. "So what do you plan to do now, Mr Potter?"

"Spend some time with the kids? Help George and Ron? Make absolutely certain that man never becomes Minister of Magic." The possibilities were endless.

"He can't sack you, you know. It would be the end of him," Ginny said. "And he may be an idiot, but he's clever enough to know that."

"Then I'll resign until he's sacked," Harry grumbled. "And I'll make sure everyone knows why."

Ginny snorted and then gave him a look. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

Harry deflated and looked at the floor. "About my job? Great. About the rest, not so great," he said despondently. "I don't know what to do. Do you think I should stop seeing him?" Harry asked.

"Why would you do that?"

Harry shrugged. "They'll follow him now," he said glumly. "I'm not sure what he gets up to the rest of the time, you know? He's pretty discreet – at least around the Club – but I'm pretty sure I'm not his only lover. They'll be ruthless," Harry said. "He won't even know. And I won't be able to explain."

The whole situation was ridiculous. Paisley was partially right. He was far too well-known to pretend toward a private life. Over the years, he'd been mostly safe from this type of attention. As a married man with children, his private life had been too boring to report on. Now that he was dating, all eyes were on him and, by extension, on whoever shared his bed. If he were dating wizards, they would at least understand the need for prudence. To Haytham, Harry wasn't anyone remarkable.

It was part of the allure.

It was clear by her face that Ginny could see his dilemma. "It's done, Harry. Even if you stopped seeing him, they'll follow him anyway. Eventually they'd grow bored, but for the next few months..." She shrugged. "You like him. What's the harm in seeing him? You can even start seeing him more often now that the secret's out. Okay. Maybe you don't want to stick your tongue in his mouth in public..." She gave a naughty grin.

Harry rolled his eyes. "It was a private party," he insisted.

Ginny gave a grim look. "I think the biggest issue is that they might try and question him to get the dirt on you. I wouldn't put it past Skeeter to have someone slip him a bit of Veritaserum or something."

Harry paled at the thought. He'd been carelessly honest, believing his truths to be safe. If the man started speaking about what he knew of Harry's life, Harry wasn't the only one in danger of exposure. "Fuck," he breathed, panicked.

"At worse, the world knows why we divorced. It's not such a big deal. They've been speculating in that sense anyway, right? Who cares?"

Harry was too sick to answer. He summoned his phone. While it didn't please him to have to do it, a certain amount of damage control was going to be required. As soon as possible.

"It's not so bad, Harry," Ginny consoled. "Don't let those bastards ruin your fun."

Harry swallowed thickly and tried to smile in acknowledgement of her efforts. He looked down at the screen of his phone and dialled Haytham.

"Hiya Angel," Haytham greeted. "I was just about to call you," he said.

"Yeah?" Harry answered, his grin blooming despite his panic.

"Hm. What would you say to a quiet night in?"

Harry let out a deep breath. "Perfect," he said adamantly. "Haytham, I need to ask you a question," he began. The other man made grunted curiously. Harry wrinkled his nose and asked, "Has anyone come around there asking about me lately?"

"About you? No. Why?"

"You're sure? Maybe they didn't ask about me specifically. But perhaps about the person you've been... sort of seeing?"

Haytham laughed. "Sort of seeing?" he asked wryly. "I've not spoken to anyone about you. What's this about?"

Harry shook his head. "It's difficult to explain," he said.

"Of course it is," Haytham answered, his tone laden with amusement.

"And nothing... weird has happened to you lately? Like losing time or long periods where details are a bit fuzzy?"

"You're scaring me," Haytham said.

Harry sighed. "I'm sorry. But it's important. I can't tell you why, but I need to know," Harry insisted. "I'm sorry," he repeated.

"A lot of weird things have happened today, topped off by this conversation. But I haven't blacked out that I know of. I think I can account for every minute of the day." The man sounded distinctly irritated by the interrogation.

"What kind of weird things?" Harry asked. His face curled into a grimace as he knew he was pushing the limits of patience.

There was a long pause. "I'll tell you all about it tonight. You might think I've gone mad, though."

"I doubt it. I have a pretty high tolerance for weird," Harry said with a smile. "If it's any consolation, my day hasn't been great."

"We'll compare stories. I'm pretty sure I'll win. When are you coming?"

"When do you want me?"

"Now. Desperately," Haytham said in a low voice that streaked through Harry's insides like a flash of lightening.

"Give me a couple of minutes," Harry said with a silly grin that could, perhaps, be seen from space.

"Come through the club. I'm in hiding," the man said cryptically.

Harry frowned at the possible implications, but agreed without further question. He shoved the phone in his pocket and looked up to see Ginny staring at him curiously. "Anything?" she asked.

Harry shook his head. "Not that he can remember. But he said he's had a strange day." The notion filled Harry with foreboding.

"Sounds ominous. You going?"

Harry smiled and nodded. Ginny walked over to put her hands on his shoulders. "He makes you happy. You deserve that, you know? Don't let them take that from you, Potter," she said firmly.

"You going out tonight?" Harry asked, redirecting the subject. He'd not fully thought through the matter, and Ginny's words resembled everything he wanted to believe. He needed time to weigh his options.

"Yeah. Later. I think I'll have a long bath and read," she yawned.

"Have fun," Harry said.

"You, too."

Chapter Text

Harry's imagination conjured all sorts of weird scenarios that Haytham might have faced during the day – all of them having to do with his own wretched situation.  Every imagined scenario resulted in Severus' exposure, and by the time Harry entered the club, which was only opened for the Blue Room at the moment, he felt sick indeed.  As he walked to the entrance to the man's flat, Harry scanned the building for Wizarding presence.  He was the only one there at the moment.  He set his phone to notify him should that change, and then sent a message to Haytham to tell the man he'd arrived.

Haytham opened the door, unshaven and unkempt.  It was a very good look for him.  His hair, normally stiff and tame with gel, fell over his forehead.  He wore a white, long-sleeve shirt with three buttons at the collar that opened to show his smooth chest.  His jeans were faded and frayed.  His feet were bare.  His grin flashed brightly in the dim lights of the corridor.  He bent down to kiss Harry deeply, languidly, until all thoughts of anything apart from the other man's presence melted into a blissful oblivion.

Haytham released him before tugging him forward by his belt, leading him to the lift.  Harry followed mindlessly.  The anxiety returned in full force as the tension between them cleared.  "So, why are you in hiding?" Harry asked, trying for a casual tone.

Haytham laughed.  "Because I'm growing paranoid in my old age," he said teasingly.  "By the sound of things, so are you."

Harry snorted.  "I've always been paranoid," he said.  "But not without reason," he added.  "What happened?"

Harry kicked off his boots by the door and entered Haytham's apartment.  "Tea?" the man asked, ignoring his question.  "Or something stronger." 


"I'd go for a whisky, if you have it," Harry said.


Haytham showed him a bottle of Lagavulin and Harry nodded.  He watched as the man poured out two measures of liquid into the glasses.  "I went back to bed after you left," he said, leading him over to the sitting area, where a grey fleece blanket lay balled up on the sofa.  A book lay face down on the glass table in front of it.  "I was startled awake by a sound ... like a gunshot or a whip crack.  There was nothing here, so I dismissed it as part of my dream.  But I've been hearing it all day.  Like a car back-firing, but it sounds too close, you know?  Like right behind me."

Harry's expression grew troubled.  He did know.  He knew only too well what the sounds were.  "That's disturbing," he murmured.

Haytham snorted.  "Yeah.  Especially because there's never anything there.  But that's only the beginning.  I went out this afternoon to go to the corner store, and ... there were people..." 



"Weird people.  Like old people who were dressed ... oddly.  I got the impression they were watching me, but whenever I looked at them, they weren't.  Paranoid.  Probably spooked by the noises, I suppose.  But it was strange."  He smiled.  "And then you go any ask if there's anyone asking about you. What's that all about?"


Harry puzzled over an honest but suitably discreet answer to the question.  He couldn't talk about the article without talking about the publication.  He couldn't explain he was being followed without explaining why anyone would follow him.  "When I got home," he began, "I received photos in the post.  Of you and me at last night's party.  And a note of sorts that makes me pretty sure the person has been talking to someone here at the club."

Haytham's mouth dropped open.  "Blackmail?  But you're out, right?  And divorced."

"I'm out," Harry agreed.  "But the photos made it to my son at school, and were rather widely distributed," he said.  "My boss and a whole host of other people.  It's not a big deal, as such.  But I'm concerned that these people are soliciting information about us."

"But why?  Who would do that?  Do you have any idea?"

Harry nodded.  "I know who it is, but there's nothing I can do about it.  It's perfectly legal," he said quietly.  But it wouldn't be if Skeeter were breaking into the club. 


"Fucking hell.  All right.  You win.  Your day was much worse than mine," he said dully.  He wore a puzzled frown.  "But I don't understand why.  Did you piss someone off?  They're trying to ruin you?"


Harry smiled.  "I've pissed a lot of people off.  It sort of defines me," he said.  "But this is different.  I really can't explain it to you properly, but if you could have a word with your staff I'd appreciate it," Harry said.

"Of course," Haytham agreed immediately.  "But they've all signed confidentiality agreements.  They know better than to tell people about the patrons of the club."

Harry shrugged.  "These people are pretty persuasive," he said vaguely.  "I'm sure they meant no harm, but it seemed pretty clear that they were getting the information from the employees."

Haytham scrubbed his hands over his face.  "So, maybe I was being followed," he said.


"It's possible.  I'm sorry," Harry said.


"Should I be worried?"


Harry shook his head.  "No.  They're not dangerous," he said. They were no danger to Haytham, at least.  Harry gave the man a long look.  He was going to have to modify his memory, he realised.  To erase any knowledge of Severus.  He'd regret it, if only because it had been nice to be able to talk to someone about the other man.  He could speak freely of his worry about Severus' non-responsiveness.  He could recount his time spent with the man without having to worry about compromising Severus' safety.  It was a small thing, but strangely important.  Haytham would have been the only one who would understand if Harry ever had cause to grieve.  He couldn't talk to anyone else.

He resolved to do the deed while the man slept.  He would just slip quietly in and gently excise the knowledge.  Severus would be safe.

He became aware that Haytham was staring at him and gave the man a curious smile.  "There's so much about you I don't understand," Haytham said.

Harry held the man's gaze a moment before nodding.  "I know."


"I've been 'sort of seeing you' for over a year now, and I don't even know where you live," Haytham pointed out.


Harry's nose wrinkled.  "Does it bother you?"


"It's starting to," Haytham admitted.  "I mean, I see you two nights a month and then you sort of disappear.  But you live in the area.  Apparently really close," Haytham pointed out.  "You have people out there who want to ruin you, and I've become an unwitting participant in that.  I have old people with strange fashion sense loitering outside my club and ... well, I don't suppose I can blame you for the noises ... and probably not the owl-"


"The weirdest thing yet," Haytham said.  "I was standing at the window having a fag when suddenly this... roll of ... paper flew inside.  When I looked out, I saw an owl flying away.  During the day.  The two may not be linked, but it was weird anyway."

"What was the paper?"

Haytham laughed.  "I tell you an owl is delivering messages to me and that's what you ask?"

"Well, I suppose if you can use pigeons as messengers, why not owls?"

Haytham laughed.  "You really do have a high tolerance for weird, Angel."

"You have no idea," Harry said.  "So?"

"Oh, it was nothing," Haytham said, looking around the room as though to spot it.  "Just some strange drawing."

"May I see it?" Harry asked, admittedly worried.  He didn't like to think what sorts of things the Wizarding world might send an oblivious Muggle.

Haytham stood and walked over to the sideboard and plucked up the roll of parchment.  He climbed over the back of the sofa and handed it to Harry.  Harry unrolled it and went white.  Staring up at him was the Dark Mark. There was no written message, but the drawing was message enough.

The Death Eaters, as an organisation, no longer existed.  All known Death Eaters were either dead or in Azkaban, but occasionally some nutter strived to rekindle old battles.  From time to time, they had found the mark lying next to the body of a victim, or painted on the wall of some destroyed building.  Pretenders they may be, but they were no less dangerous.


"Haytham, we need to go," he said, his voice cracking.  He stood, reaching into his jeans and pulled his out his phone. 

"Go?" Haytham asked, puzzled.

Harry put his phone to his ear and waited.  He walked to the window and peered out.  "Harry," answered a voice laden with amusement.  "Nice article."

"Gordan, I need you to get men down to the Blue Note Club right away.  Don't bother with the car.  There's an alley behind.  Just don't be seen.  He's ... he received the Dark Mark in the post."

"Fucking hell," the other man breathed. 

"Part of the club is open.  Please be discreet.  I'm getting him out of here," Harry said.  He glanced over at Haytham who watched him with a puzzled look.  "Secure the club.  He's been hearing people pop in and out of here all day.  Probably Skeeter and her lot, but make sure that can't happen.  The club opens at nine.  Put a man on the door with security and three more inside."

"Oi!" Haytham protested, but Harry gave him a pleading look and threw up his hand.

"Make sure they blend in," Harry told Kelly.   

"Where are you taking him?"

Harry took a deep breath.  He didn't take a moment to consider.  He'd decided the moment he saw it.  "Mine," he answered.  "At least for tonight.  I can't think of a safer place, and this justifies the breach."

There was a long pause.  "I don't know, Harry.  You should clear it with Paisley," the man said.

"I don't think I'd find him sympathetic.  I'll send word to Kingsley and ask Hermione to meet us.  She'll help."

"All right. Just get out of there.  We'll be in touch," the man said.

Harry hung up.  Haytham glared at him.  "What the hell do you think you're doing?  I don't want my club crawling with cops," he argued.

"Haytham, there isn't time to explain here.  But I will.  I promise.  That isn't just a silly drawing.  It's from a terrorist organisation, and they mean you harm."

The man blinked up at him.  "Why?" the man asked.  "Is this ... the photos?"

Harry shook his head.  "It's not really about that, but I imagine it's related.  I'll explain, Haytham, but only once we're safe."

"I need to get the staff out," Haytham said coldly.

"My men will take care of them.  We need to get you out of here."  He took a deep breath.  His phone buzzed several times, announcing the arrival of Wizards.  Probably Kelly's men, but Harry didn't intend to stick around to verify.  He pulled his wand from his pocket and hurriedly created a Portkey from the book. 

"What the hell is that?" Haytham said.

"I'll explain everything," Harry promised.  "Grab hold," Harry said, offering the book. 

Haytham stared at him as though he'd grown a second head.  Harry sighed and sat beside him on the sofa.  "You need to trust me, okay?  Please," Harry said, taking his hand and placing it on the book.  "Hold on tight," he instructed.


"This isn't pleasant, but it's quick.  Just hold on."

Haytham's hand tightened over the book, but he continued to stare at Harry with a puzzled expression.  Thirty seconds stretched eternally out.  "Is something supposed to happen?" Haytham asked.

Harry looked and felt like an idiot.  "In a few seconds," he promised.

"Aren't we supposed to be going somewhere?" Haytham pressed.

Harry gave a sheepish grin.  "I'll explain after," he promised.

"You can start by telling me why I'm clutching a –"

The world shifted, the telltale hook pulled him by the navel into the void.


The two men arrived in Harry's kitchen.  Harry dropped the book in favour of keeping the other man from crashing backward.  Haytham wore a stunned look, eyes swivelling wildly around the room.  "What the … fucking hell … what?" he stuttered.


"It's me," Harry called out answering Ginny's call.  "It's called a Portkey," Harry explained slowly.  "It's a method of transportation for … people like me."

"Hey!" Ginny called out.  She stopped at the door.  Her mouth dropped open at the sight of Haytham.  "Er…"

"Haytham, you've met Ginny," Harry said weakly.

"That doesn't look anything like Ginny!" he protested angrily.  Harry cringed, having forgotten that Ginny always wore a glamour in Muggle London.  "People like you?  What the fuck does that mean?  What the fuck is going on?"

"I'll explain everything," he promised as calmly as he could.  "Gin, can you call Hermione and ask her to come?"

"What happened?" Ginny asked, eyes going from Haytham to Harry and back again.

"I'll explain later," Harry insisted losing his patience.  "Please sit," he told the man, pulling out a kitchen chair.  "We're at my house.  In a place called Diagon Alley in London.  You won't know it because it's accessible only to ... the Wizarding world," he finished weakly.  He looked at the man, who appeared suitably incredulous.

"Wizarding world," Haytham repeated.

Harry had no idea of how to broach this.  He supposed it helped that he'd just transported the man across town with the help of a book.  It leant a little credibility to what he was going to have to explain next.  "A thousand years ago, wizards and Muggles … non-magical people, lived together.  But with the religious persecution and the witch burnings and the like, our people went underground.  There are laws that forbid us from revealing ourselves.  Laws that I've just broken."  Harry gave the man a sympathetic look.  "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Something to drink?"  Haytham let out a hysterical little laugh.  Harry summoned the firewhisky and two glasses.  Haytham watched, gobsmacked, as the glasses set themselves on the table.  "Fucking hell," Haytham breathed.  "You're a –"

"A wizard.  Yeah.  I know this is weird."

"I'm losing my fucking mind," Haytham said, dropping his face in his hands. 

"You're not," Harry said, putting his hand on the man's shoulder.  "Haytham, I'm sorry about all this.  I wouldn't have ... I'd not have chosen to tell you like this," he admitted.  "Or at all, if I'm honest."

"What's going on at my club?" Haytham asked, making a good effort to sound calm despite the shock.

Harry slid a tumbler full of whisky over.  "There are people in my world who believe that we're a superior race who shouldn't have to hide.  They also find it distasteful that any of our kind mixes with your kind.  They're racists, in essence.  Nearly twenty years ago, there was an organization called the Death Eaters, whose mark you received today.  Normally, this mark was set magically above the houses where they'd done murder, but only those who were tattooed with that mark could cast the spell.  That organisation has been disbanded, and its members were either killed or imprisoned.  Their leader was killed.  The people who sent you the letter are probably not part of that organisation, but we can be reasonably sure that they mean to do you harm."

Harry heard the swoosh of the Floo and looked over to see Hermione walking to the kitchen, looking puzzled.  Her eyes caught on Haytham and widened.  "Oh, Harry," she sighed.  The "what have you done now" was left unsaid.

Ginny sat at the table across from Haytham.  "Haytham?  Can I get you anything?" she asked with a concerned expression.

Haytham stared at her.  "You look different," he noted dully.

She nodded.  "I disguise myself when I go out in London," she said awkwardly.

The corner of Haytham's mouth quirked up.  "Magic," he snorted.  "I suppose it explains the costumes."

Ginny beamed at him, looking inappropriately pleased with herself. 

"Hermione, this is Haytham.  Haytham, this is my colleague and best friend.  I've told you about her," Harry said.  The man nodded in acknowledgment of the name.

"Hi," Hermione said.  "So ... a lot has changed since this morning," she said, casting Harry a pointed look.  "You said it wasn't serious."

Harry closed his eyes.  "He received the Dark Mark by owl post this afternoon," Harry summarised.  "Kelly has men at the club now, but I wanted to get him out before anything happened."

"The Dark Mark," Ginny gasped.  "Merlin," she breathed.

"Merlin," Haytham repeated and shook his head.

"And you brought him here?  Harry, are you trying to get sacked?" Hermione shouted.

"Too late for that," Ginny said dryly.  "You should have heard Paisley this afternoon.  Come Monday, Harry's unemployed."

"Why'd you get sacked? Because of the photos?" Haytham asked.

"You told him?" Ginny looked surprised.

There were far too many people in the room, and Harry was torn between wanting to ensure Haytham was okay with everything, wanting to plead with Hermione for her help in making all this okay and wanting to kick Ginny out all together.  He took a deep breath and summoned the Prophet.  "This is what I was talking about."

Haytham stared at the moving picture of the heated kiss.  "It moves," he said, his voice flat.  "Of course it moves," he responded with a slightly manic laugh.  His eyes scanned the article, a crease pulling down his brow.

"Protecting him is just cause," Harry said to Hermione.  "Right?"

Hermione gave him a grim look.  "It might have been had it been cleared.  For Merlin's sake, Harry, I shouldn't have to tell you that," she said.

"There wasn't time," Harry snapped back.  "And Paisley's not going to do anything for me right now.  He'd have stalled just to spite me."

She gave him a hard look and then shook her head.  "It's bad, Harry," she sighed.  She began to chew her thumb and got that far away look she always got when she was puzzling through something. 

"What do they mean by, 'Is the seedy club owner worthy of our esteemed Saviour's attention?'" Haytham asked.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut.  There was so much to explain, and Harry found himself weary just thinking of it. 

 "It's one of his titles," Ginny said.  "One of many," she added with a small smile.  "I don't think your club is seedy, for the record."

Haytham frowned at her.  "Saviour?"

"I told you about the leader of that group.  The Death Eaters.  I ... defeated him in battle.  Saviour is an exaggeration," Harry added. 

"Harry," Ginny snapped.  "If it weren't for Harry, both of our worlds would have been destroyed."

"You're not helping.  He's confused enough," Harry shouted, his hand going to his scar reflexively.

"So, you got sacked because of this.  Because you're gay?"

Harry shook his head.  "Almost no one cares I'm gay.  We don't have the same kind of religious fervour here," he said.  "But my boss is jealous of the press I get.  It conflicts with his political ambitions.  Anyway, I haven't been sacked yet."

"We'll work through this," Hermione announced suddenly.  "Maybe a binding gag order or... I'll ring Kingsley," she decided and left the room with her phone already at her ear.

Haytham shook his head and stood.  His eyes caught on the clock that Harry and Ginny had received from the Weasleys.  The children were shown to be at 'The Burrow' and Harry and Ginny were 'at home'.  He blinked a moment and then shook his head.  "I need to get back to the club," he said.  "My staff won't know what the hell has happened."

"I promise, they'll be fine.  They won't even notice anything is amiss.  They'll be able to talk to my men, but they won't realise that it's weird for them to be there.  We have ways of blending in," Harry explained.

Haytham began to pace, pinching the bridge of his nose.  His normal carefree countenance was gone, leaving the man frazzled and clearly panicked.  "So ..." he said, raising his head.  "So, if I understand..."  He snorted as though the prospect was laughable.  "The article came out this morning revealing your affair with me.  These... sympathisers saw an opportunity to get revenge on you by coming after me?  Is that it?"

Harry nodded slowly, his insides twisting painfully.  "It's likely," he said weakly.

"You... how could you ..."  Haytham stopped pacing to stare at him angrily.  "This is my life!  My club!"

"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.  "I didn't think ... I didn't mean to ..."

"This isn't your fault!" Ginny insisted, raising her voice.  "It's not his fault," she seethed at Haytham.  "They're fucking nutters.  If they were after you because they had a thing against gays, would that make it different?"

"Ginny, stop shouting at him," Harry said wearily.

"He doesn't understand, Harry," Ginny argued.

 "He's right.  I should have known better.  I should have ..."  He should have never believed that anything he did could be kept secret.  Or that anyone he was close to would be safe.  The amount of protection put on his family was proof enough that no one was fully safe when they were associated with him.  It had been years since he'd had to think about that fact.  Unfortunately, there were some in this world who had long memories. 

"I'm sorry, Haytham.  I'll do what I can to fix it," he said, standing.  He plucked up his glass, inhaling the blue flames as he swallowed the liquid down.  He went in search of Hermione, leaving behind the low murmurs of Ginny.  He hoped she'd cut the other man some slack, given the shock he'd had that evening.

Hermione had her back to him, clutching her mobile to her ear.  "I understand," she said.  "I'll let him know ...  You'll talk to Paisley?" she asked in a hopeful tone.   "Thanks, Kingsley.  See you Monday."  She let the phone drop into her bag and twisted around.  Her face went grim when she saw him.  "Are you sure you're not serious about him, Harry?"

Harry laughed bitterly.  "Even if I was, it wouldn't make a difference.  I have to stop seeing him," he said.

"He'll have to have his memory wiped," she said. 

Harry nodded regretfully.  It was better that way.  "It's all right.  He'll sleep better for it," Harry said with a half smile.

"You don't have to stop seeing him, you know," she said, her eyes going soft with sympathy.

They both knew that wasn't true.  Anyone Harry was involved with was a potential target.  At least if he involved himself with other wizards, they would understand the threat and could take measures to protect themselves or defend themselves if necessary.  Haytham was defenceless against this kind of danger.  He wouldn't even see them coming.

Hermione came forward to wrap her arms around him.  "Oh, Harry.  I'm so sorry for you," she said, tightening her embrace.  "It's not fair."

Harry's raging heart echoed the useless lament.  It wasn't fair.  While he and Haytham had kept their affair casual, Harry had grown to depend on their infrequent meetings.  It was sex, but it was more than that.  The other people he'd dated since his divorce were pleasant.  The meetings were amiable and enjoyable.  But when he was dating as Harry 'the Saviour' Potter, he couldn't be anything apart from that.  He couldn't let himself forget that any slip-up on his part would find its way into the papers the next morning.  He couldn't afford to trust anyone.

With Haytham, he was able to cast aside the burden for two nights a month and just be Harry – as he'd been with Severus and with Ginny.  The attraction he'd held for all three of them was rooted in that trust.  Logically, he knew he was bound to find that again at some point in his life.  He was still relatively young, and even if he discounted women, Muggles and straight wizards, there were still a handful of men who probably wouldn't sell him out to the likes of Skeeter in exchange for their fifteen minutes of fame.  He'd surely find it someday.

Just now, he didn't have the heart to look.  It was too complicated, and he was tired.  Tired of being Harry Bloody Potter. 

"How is he?" Hermione asked, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"He hates me," Harry sighed.  "I should have seen this coming, Hermione.  I've grown complacent.  Constant vigilance," he breathed.

She pulled back to look at him.  "Don't do that.  You deserve some happiness in your life, Harry.  No one can fault you for trying to find it," she said.

"I'm cursed," Harry said with a rueful smile, his fingers coming up to rub his forehead.

She sighed and placed her hand on his cheek.  "Someday –" she started, but stopped at the sound of Harry's mobile ringing.

"Potter," Harry answered.

"Harry," Gordan Kelly responded.  "We've swept the place.  It's clean.  We've taken the parchment into evidence and cast an Apparition deviation on the place.   Anyone trying to get in will be diverted to the holding cell at the office."

Harry grinned at the news and the accompanying image of Rita Skeeter finding herself in gaol.  Of course, she had other methods of spying.  "Thanks, Gordan.  We'll need to keep some men there until this dies down."

"How's your friend holding up?"

"Not well," Harry said.  "On the bright side, there aren't likely to be anymore articles."

"Sorry, mate.  I hope you two weren't too serious," the man said sincerely.

"No," Harry answered glumly.  "Thanks, anyway."

"You should know that Paisley called me.  He asked if I'd be interested in a promotion," the man told him.

Harry snorted.  "I can think of no better person, Gordan.  I wish you all the best," he said.

"I told him I wasn't interested," Gordan said.  "And I may have hinted that if you were sacked, he'd have to replace both of us."

"Gordan, I appreciate it, really.  But I'm leaving whether he sacks me or not.  I can't work for him anymore.  At least with you there, I can be sure that the department will keep running despite him."

"I can't work for him either, mate.  But I'm happy to work for you.  If enough of us go, maybe Shacklebolt  will get the picture," the man said.

Harry smiled.  "Thanks, Gordan.  When can Haytham go home?"

"Give us the night to secure his flat.  Shall I organise an Oblivator?"

"No," Harry said.  "I'll do it myself.  There are a few things there I wouldn't want Skeeter to find were she to try and dig," he explained.

"Understood.  See you Monday?"

"Briefly, I imagine, but yeah.  Cheers, mate."

Harry hung up the phone and looked at Hermione.  "Paisley offered Gordan my job," he said with a small smile.

Hermione glared.  "Well, at least he's not a complete idiot," she growled.

"Gordan refused and threatened to quit," Harry said.  The man's show of loyalty brought a sincere grin to his face.  Gordan had been among those who were sceptical when Harry was made head of the team.  That the man would stand behind him now spoke volumes about just how well Harry had risen to the task.

"He won't be the only one, I reckon.  I spoke to Kingsley, but if you're intent on leaving, I don't suppose he can do anything," she said.

Harry nodded.  "I'm finished with it.  I'll go back when they put someone competent in charge," he said.

"Someone like you?" Hermione smirked.

Harry shrugged.  "I couldn't possibly do worse than Paisley," he said.  "I better get back in there.  Ginny was defending my honour when I left them.  I'm sorry you couldn't meet him in better circumstances.  He's really quite charming when he's not stunned out of his senses."

Hermione gave a sad look.  She shook her head.  "It's never easy for you, is it?" she sighed.  "I'd best get home.  Ron's cooking," she said ominously.

"And you left him alone?" Harry said with feigned shock.  They laughed.  "Thanks, Hermione.  I owe you."

Hermione shrugged.  "Do you want me to talk to him?" she asked. 

Harry shook his head.  "It's all right.  Go home," he told her.

She hugged him again before throwing Floo powder into the flames.  Harry watched her step in and get swept away.  He steeled himself to face the ire of his once lover.  As he neared the kitchen he could hear Ginny appealing to the man in an impassioned whisper.  "... everything everyone expects him to do.  You don't know what that's like for him.  With you ... he gets a break from all that.  He likes you, Haytham."

"Ginny," Harry said sternly.  "Stop.  I appreciate what you're trying to do, but leave him alone," he said.  His eyes cast to the man.  He'd never seen him look quite so lost.  "You'll be able to go home tomorrow morning," he told the man.  "Everything will be back to normal, you'll see."

Haytham laughed.  "Normal?  What the hell does that even mean?"

Ginny frowned at Harry.  "It means you'll not remember any of this," she told him.

"Ginny!" Harry barked. 

"I'm right, aren't I?"

"What do you mean, I won't remember?"

"Don't you have a date or something?" Harry snapped.  "Are you trying to make this more difficult for me?"

"It's a risk no matter who you decide to date, Harry.  At least now he knows about it.  Why don't you let him fucking decide whether or not he wants you in his life?"

"Will someone please tell me what the hell you two are on about?" Haytham growled.

Ginny and Harry were busy glaring at each other.  "Gin, please.  Go out.  I'm sleeping in your room tonight, anyway.  These are Kingsley's orders," he said.

Her eyes flooded with tears.  She stood up and came to put her arms around him.  "Why do you always have to be so fucking noble?" she sniffed.

Harry closed his eyes.  "We'll talk in the morning," he said into her hair.  "Just let me have some time with him, okay?"  She pressed a kiss to his cheek and left the room.

"How are you feeling?" Harry asked.

"What does she mean?" Haytham asked angrily.

Harry shook his head.  "It's a simple spell," he said, coming over to sit at the table next to the man.  "It happens all the time.  We're a big community, and it's not easy to keep secret.  So we have ways of erasing ourselves from people's memories.  It's totally painless and totally safe."

Haytham didn't appear to like the sound of anyone fucking with his memories, and Harry could relate, but it couldn't be helped.  "So that's it.  You just never existed?"

Harry closed his eyes.  "Too many people have seen us together," Harry said, almost regretfully.  It might be kinder to just disappear altogether, but impossible under the circumstances.  "You'll remember me coming over.  We'll have had a row or something, and you'll never want to see me again."  His voice broke over the last bit.  He felt as though his chest was caving in.

Haytham's eyes softened slightly.  "What about these ... fuckwits?" he asked.  "Making you go away won't make them go away, right?"

Harry nodded.  "Some of my men will be sticking around.  You'll believe that you hired them – don't worry, they'll be paid by us," Harry assured him with a half-smile.  "They've put up spells to secure the club and are working on your flat.  All those sounds you heard today, that's what we call Apparition.  We can disappear in one place and reappear in another – kind of like the Portkey, but a bit different.  So what you heard were people popping in and out of the club.  We've put up protections against that now.  You'll be as safe as we can make you.  The men will stay on until either we catch the bastards, or the threat disappears.  If I show no interest in you, eventually they'll decide it's not worth the effort." 

Haytham frowned.  "I don't like the idea of people planting ideas in my head.  Let alone wiping my memory."

"I understand.  Really.  But you have to understand that it's a matter of international law.  We can't allow you to know about us.  History has more than demonstrated that," Harry said.  "It's a matter of security for both our worlds."

"OK.  So, wipe my memory of tonight.  But I don't see why you should plant the idea that I never want to see you again in my head," Haytham argued.

"Haytham, if I take away tonight and not the rest, you'll call me.  You won't remember why I'm a danger to you or why you're so angry with me.  I would have to stage some sort of argument with you, and I don't think I can do that," he said.  "This is going to be painful enough."

Haytham sighed and carded his fingers through his hair.  "This is really fucked up," he complained.  "You don't think I'll notice that there are security guards hanging around who aren't on my payroll?"

"We have ways to keep you from thinking about it," Harry said cryptically.

"I hate that my brain can be so easily fucked with," the man growled impotently.  "Have you done it before?"  He peered at Harry suspiciously.

Harry shook his head.  "I've never needed to," he said quietly.  "The only time I've done magic anywhere near you was that first night when I had to get rid of the gold," Harry said with a sideways smile.

"Magic," Haytham repeated.  "God, this is so strange," he groaned.

"Sorry.  It'll all go away soon," Harry said.  "If you'd like, I can give you something to help you sleep.  Make the time go faster."

"I was right about you," Haytham said, giving him a long look.  "Celestial."  He reached over to stroke Harry's face. 

Harry moved back out of reach.  "Cursed," he corrected.  He swallowed.  "I am sorry to have put you through this."

"As your wife so helpfully reminded me earlier, I called you," Haytham noted.

Harry snorted.  "Don't mind her.  She's a bit protective," he said.  "You called, but I should have known better than to answer.  It was careless," Harry admitted.  "I don't suppose I'll let myself forget again any time soon."

"I'm sorry I got angry with you, Angel.  It's been a trying day," Haytham said.

Harry laughed.  "You don't need to apologise.  The fault is mine," Harry insisted.

"You can't be blamed for the nutcases of the world.  It sounds to me like you've done everything you can to save everyone from them.  I suppose now I understand why everything is so difficult to explain.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have believed you if you'd tried," Haytham grinned.  The smile was lacking it's habitual insouciance, but it was nice to see the expression back on his face.  Harry tried to return it, but couldn't get his mouth to cooperate.  He wanted to get the whole affair over with, so he could get on with lamenting his cursed existence.

"You can explain now," Haytham said.

Harry shifted his eyes to the man.  "There isn't much point in it.  You'll not remember anyway," Harry pointed out.

"Tonight, I live in a world where magic exists.  Even if I don't remember it, I'd like to know more about it now.  I didn't realise I was sort of seeing a proper hero," Haytham said.

Harry rolled his eyes.  "I did what I had to do.  I didn't have a lot of choice.  It was less heroics than a weird sort of self-preservation.   I don't deal well with the thought of people being hurt because of me."  He lowered his eyes.  The hard fact was that he'd rather be dead than responsible for the deaths of others.  There was no guilt in death.  "Hermione calls it my 'saving people thing'."

"That's what you're doing now, right?  That's what this is about and why you won't see me anymore," Haytham asked.

"These people won't stop, Haytham.  It's been years since they've got so close to me, but mostly that's because everyone close to me is extremely well-protected.  I let myself forget that," he said.  "I was foolish enough to believe they wouldn't follow me to your world."  Harry shook his head irritably.  How could he have been so stupid?  "They'll punish me in any way they can.  I've put a lot of their number in prison for life.  I killed their ring leader and destroyed their chance of victory.  At least put their efforts back a few decades until the next Dark Lord rises to take the place of the last," he said with a small snort.

"Dark Lord," Haytham said blandly.  "It sounds so ..."

"A bit silly.  I know.  But there was nothing silly about him.  Voldemort was extremely powerful and more dangerous than you can imagine.  He was very close to winning.  If I'd not managed to do the job I was given to do, and there were plenty of times I thought I'd fail, this whole world would be a very different place today."

Haytham gave a small smirk.  "You're telling me that the fate of the world rested on the shoulders of a teenager?"

Harry looked at him steadily and nodded.  "I didn't do it alone, but it came down to me at the end.  For a lot of complicated and absurd reasons."

"It's a bit hard to swallow," Haytham said apologetically.

Harry nodded.  "I know."

"So why you?" Haytham asked.


"If you tell me it's difficult to explain, I might have to hit you," Haytham said with an amused smirk.  "If I'm sequestered here tonight, you can at least give me a good story."

So, Harry talked.  He told the man his life story, beginning with the death of his parents and the resulting tie to Voldemort.  He talked briefly about his Aunt and Uncle and about getting his Hogwarts letter.  He went through every year he was at school and the various mysteries that surrounded his life.  He told about Dumbledore and Severus, about Severus' presumed fate and why it was so important to have kept the identity of his first male lover secret.

He confessed it all, and the other man listened, enthralled.  They began in the kitchen and moved to the sofa, their bodies eventually migrating toward one another until Haytham had pulled Harry into his arms.  Occasionally he'd ask for clarification.  Often he'd ask how something was even possible, but the answer was invariably 'magic', so he began answering his own questions.    By the end of his tale, Harry's voice creaked from fatigue.  His heart ached with hopelessness and grief.


 Haytham was silent a long while after Harry stopped speaking.  He was wedged into the corner of the sofa with Harry nestled between his legs, back against the man's chest.  Harry could feel the beating of the man's heart, and it clashed with the thudding of his own in his ears.  All that was lost weighed on the atmosphere in the room, and he wondered when he would finally be able to put it to rest.  When would he finally be free from the past, and was it even possible?

"You're the most amazing person I've ever met," Haytham whispered into his hair.  "What kind of a fool would never to want to see you again?"

Harry closed his eyes and clenched his jaw to still the stirring of emotion.   "Can I get you anything?" Harry asked roughly, pulling out of the man's embrace and standing.  Escaping.

"Couldn't you just ... you know," His waved his index finger around vaguely.

"Summon something?"

"What have you got?"

"Er... Pumpkin juice?  Butterbeer, Firewhisky, gin and tonic?"

Haytham laughed.  "Butterbeer?" he said, wrinkling his nose.   "Sounds vile," he said.

"It's nice, actually.  Not alcoholic, unless you're a house elf," Harry said.

"I think I'll give the Firewhisky a try," he said.  "I didn't drink it before.  The flames were a bit daunting."

Harry summoned the bottle and the glasses again before fleeing to the loo.  Once there, he gave into the impulse to slide down the wall and wrap his arms around himself to keep from exploding.  He wasn't going to last the night.  He always did what needed to be done, but he wasn't going to be able to do this.  He didn't want to. 

He had to.

If the retelling of the story had proved one thing, it was that Harry would ever be the symbol of everything the dark stood against.  He could quit his job and try and fade into obscurity, but they would always be watching for him to slip-up.  Harry's destruction would give hope to their cause, and they knew too well his greatest weakness.

His greatest strength, Dumbledore would have said.  But Harry couldn't help but note that Albus Dumbledore gave up on love at a very young age, and so didn't really have to worry about its capacity to be used against him.  He was, above all, a very pragmatic man.  Harry was certain that Dumbledore had loved him, just as he was certain the man had loved Severus.  But they had both been expendable, in Dumbledore's eyes, in exchange for the greater, more general love of humanity.  Harry wouldn't change his capacity to love for anything, but as long as he loved, those he loved would be vulnerable.  They could be used against him.

His children were as safe as he could make them.  They were each of them tracked and warded against abduction.  There were Aurors placed at Hogwarts to ensure the eldest Potter child remained safe from any stray Death Eater sympathisers seeking revenge.   While nothing was foolproof, Harry felt reasonably sure that his own enemies, at least, would have a hard time coming near his children. 

Nothing could protect them from the press.  While the younger two remained relatively shielded from the rumour mongers and sensationalistic journalists, James was beginning to learn just how public a figure his father was.  All of them knew that their father had defeated Voldemort, but none of them really understood what that meant.  Before James had gone to school, Harry and Ginny had warned him of what sort of things he might expect, but Harry suspected, for all their effort, today's news would have come as a shock to the eleven-year-old. 

Harry's life was tainted by celebrity, and he was sick to death of it.  He was watched by the world and completely isolated from it at the same time.  He'd given everything, sacrificed everything, and now he would sacrifice this one last thing to keep the world safe.  Ginny had asked him why he had to be so noble.  As though he had a choice.  He'd grown up a burden to the Dursleys.  Became a burden to his two best friends, and now was a burden on his family.  Those, he could do nothing about.  At least with Haytham, he could decide to stop it.

Harry lowered his forehead to his knees and took a deep breath.  He thought he'd sorted all these feelings out years ago, but they were there, just under the surface.  Tonight, they inundated him.  He was crushed under their weight. 

The door opened.  Harry looked up and scrabbled for an excuse to be found in such a sorry state.  Finding none, he dropped his eyes to stare miserably at the tiles.

Haytham wore a concerned expression as he sank down in front of him.  Harry closed his eyes as the man brushed his knuckles down Harry's cheek.  The man's breath smelled of Firewhisky, which brought to mind Severus and made him feel even more wretched.  Haytham held the back of his head as he kissed him, licking the salty sorrow from Harry's mouth until Harry's tongue responded.  Harry's lips took up the message and pressed it against the man's lips, teeth scraping it away again.  All is well, they said.

"You all right?" Haytham whispered.

Harry gave a small nod.  "Sorry," he whispered back.  "It's been a rough day."

Haytham let out a loud, barking laugh.  "A rough day," he echoed. 

Harry smiled sheepishly.  "How are you?"

Haytham shrugged.  "For someone whose entire world was turned upside down, I'm holding up pretty well, I'd say.  Of course, I may be in shock," he said.  He put his finger to Harry's lips to stop the apology from spilling out.  "Don't tell me you're sorry," he warned.  "I don't want you to be sorry, Harry."

Harry snorted softly and pressed a kiss against the man's finger tip.  He gave a curt nod of agreement.  He wouldn't say it, but he couldn't help the feeling of deep contrition that hollowed him out.  He was sorry.  Sorry for entering the man's life.  Sorry for the complications that followed him around like a vile smell.  Sorry that this night would be their last.

"Take me to bed," Haytham suggested, pulling Harry up by his hand.  It was with a heavy heart that Harry complied.  Sex was the farthest thing from his mind at the moment, but he knew that Haytham had a talent for bringing it to the forefront.

Harry's bed accommodated him comfortably, but wasn't quite big enough for two.  He soon fixed that, expanding it until it filled the small room and wedged firmly between Harry's small dresser and the wall.   Haytham shook his head in wonder.  "Are you sure it'll hold?" he said doubtfully.

Harry grinned.  "Trust me," he said, and then came forward to start undressing the other man.  Haytham repaid the favour, and soon both men were crawling over the footboard to get into the bed. 

Haytham groaned at a sudden thought.  "Tell me you have condoms," he pleaded.

"I don't need them," Harry was relieved to finally be able to explain.  "You can't get anything that would affect me.  I can't get anything that would affect you.  And besides, you're the only lover I have," he said with a smile.

Haytham offered a regretful smile.  "You know that I can't say the same," he said.

Harry laughed.  "I never expected to be your only lover, Haytham."

"I'd have given it a go," Haytham confessed, running his thumb over Harry's cheek.  "If you were available more than once a month."  He laughed.  "I'd have eventually buggered it up, but..."

"Never mind," Harry said, fervently wanting to steer the conversation away from ideas like that. He expected they'd occupy his mind well enough over the next few months, and he preferred not to pollute their last evening together with a load of what-ifs.

"I'm going to miss you, Harry," Haytham sighed, combing his fingers through Harry's hair.

Harry shook his head sadly.  "You won't," he promised.  "But I'll not be so lucky."  Haytham frowned and appeared ready to argue, but Harry leaned forward to kiss the argument away.  "It's enough that you would miss me were you able to," he said.

"Is it?" Haytham asked.

"Haytham," Harry pleaded on a breath. 

Haytham pressed his forehead to Harry's and ran his fingers down Harry's side.  "Harry," he responded.

Harry opened his eyes and forced an impish smile onto his face.   "I have so much I've always wanted to show you," he whispered.  "At least now I can."

"Magic?"  The man's eyes were alight with intrigue and, Harry imagined, a small amount of apprehension.

"You're going to love it," Harry promised. 

Once Harry assured the man again that he was quite safe... yes, really... the conversation died.  The two men stretched time to its limits, dragging out each second until neither could hold any longer.  Judicious use of magic ensured that Harry finally (finally!) reduced the man to begging and that when they came, it was together.  Haytham was suitably shattered as they lay recovering, panting and peppering the air with the occasional curse of disbelief. 

Harry laughed at the man and then cast a cleaning spell over both of them. Haytham gasped at the feeling.  "What the hell was that?" he asked.

"Cleaning spell," Harry answered.

"Bloody hell," Haytham breathed.  "That's useful."  He rolled over and pulled Harry close, kissing him on the nose, the forehead and then briefly the lips.  He gave Harry a long look that made Harry stop breathing in anticipation of what was coming next.  Predictably, Haytham said, "I don't want to stop seeing you.  I don't want to not remember."

"Haytham," Harry pleaded, closing his eyes. 

"Ginny's right.  I should have a say in this," Haytham insisted.  "And you said that your friend, Hermione, and your mum were born to Muggles.  So, there have to be some of us who know about your lot."

Harry nodded.  "But they're only allowed to know because they're directly related," Harry explained. 

"But your teacher friend was with a Muggle," Haytham remembered.

"They'd been together for several years before he told David.  And they had to draw up legally binding contracts to tie the two of them together.  There had to be a commitment on both their sides before they could go through the process."  Of course, things were not as regulated in Britain, but it didn't seem smart to point that out just then.

"What kind of contract?"

Harry sighed.  "Severus had to make David a partner in his business as they couldn't get married there."

Haytham blinked.  Harry knew that he wasn't quite ready for that level of commitment.  Neither was Harry, if he was honest.  He liked Haytham.  He hated that his relationship with the man had to end, but he wasn't ready to marry him.  Or anyone.  And all that was beside the real point, anyway.  "It's just not safe," he said quietly. 

"Let me worry about my safety," Haytham said.  "I'm going to be surrounded by cops anyway now, and I would be happy to go through that if you came along with it. I like you, Harry.  The only reason I'm not madly in love with you is because you kept me at a safe distance.  You may not be my only lover, but you're the only one I look forward to seeing.  I spend all month waiting for my allotted weekend.  I'm besotted, and I have been since the moment I watched you get off to the sound of sex in my club. And all that was before tonight, which, frankly, will take quite powerful magic to make me forget, because you were fucking incredible."

Harry smiled at the compliment, his heart simultaneously soaring and shattering into a million pieces.  The effect was puzzling indeed.  He frowned and heaved a heavy sigh, closing his eyes.

"Please, Harry.  Let me keep this.  I've told you I'm crap at relationships and I am, but ... Maybe, I've just not met the right person," Haytham said, suddenly adamant.  "And Harry, if you're not the right man, I don't think he exists."

Harry met the man's eyes and forced a smile to his face as he brushed his fingers over the man's rough cheek.  "We'll talk about it in the morning, all right?"

Haytham  gave him a dubious look.  "Really?"

Harry nodded and leant in to kiss him.  "Really," he said.  But not really, he knew.  His only solace was that Haytham wouldn't remember his lie.

Haytham slept, and Harry watched, too worried and too depressed to give into troubled dreams.  He tried to convince himself that it would have ended badly anyway, repeating over and over again the speeches he'd learnt from Severus.  As a natural optimist, he couldn't quite bring himself to believe.

Dawn came, and Harry summoned his wand and Haytham's book.  The man would wake up on his sofa with no memory of magic or the night's events.  He would believe that Harry had met someone else and had come by to end the affair.  Haytham would be completely ambivalent toward it.  Whenever it crossed his mind to call Harry, he would suddenly find himself distracted by Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."  He would recall that Harry had had one male lover before him, but nothing more.  All the secrets that dictated Harry's life would be safe.

Harry pressed his lips to the other man's and whispered, "Obliviate."


Harry opted out of the family dinner at the Burrow.  He didn't think he could face their questions and didn't have the heart to explain all that had happened the night before.  Ginny understood and, he was certain, so would everyone else.  He spent the day doing odd jobs that he'd put off for months.  He serviced his broom and silenced the squeaky floor boards.  He tidied the kids' rooms and organised the larder. 

His attempt not to think about everything was thwarted by Kelly's phone call, reporting the appearance of no less than thirty wizards in the holding cell through the night.  Most, he explained, were just tourists, curious to see the preferred retreat of The Chosen One.  A reporter from Witch Weekly found himself suddenly in gaol, looking perplexed.  He claimed that after Skeeter's article, they wanted to give a kinder spin on the romance between Harry and the Muggle.  The interrogation supported the man's claim, and he was released with a firm warning to stay away from the club.

The only victory to be had over the night was that Skeeter's photographer, Roland Briggs, had been captured and charged with Unjustifiable Disregard for Muggle Law.  Thanks to his testimony, Rita Skeeter would be brought in for questioning.  The charges were minor and would likely be dropped in the name of Freedom of the Press, but Harry had made his point.

For all the good it would do.

The person behind the Dark Mark hadn't been caught, but the men were on it.  Harry thanked Kelly for his work and apologised for being the cause of a sleepless night.  The man reassured him that it was all part of the job, and that he had taken a special kind of glee in thwarting Skeeter's campaign against Harry. 

Later, Harry sat down to pen the weekly letter and an apology to his son.

Dear James,

I hope your week has gone well, despite the Prophet's article.  I imagine you got a bit of grief over it from the other students, and for that, I am sincerely sorry.  Your mum and I warned you something like this might happen eventually.  The man from the photo was a good friend of mine.  Your mum and I met him the night that idiotic photo of me in costume was made.  He is not the reason mum and I divorced.  If you have any questions about anything in the article, please don't hesitate to ask. 

I know the other students are likely to wind you up over this.  Fighting isn't an appropriate response.  As hard as it will be, I urge you to try and ignore them.  You are my son, and as my son, you will have to get used to things like this happening.  I will try and be more careful in future to avoid having my private moments show up in the paper, but as a public figure it is almost inevitable.  I know you've had this lecture before, but I wanted to reiterate it.  We need to rise above it.

Just so you know, I am going to leave the MLE.  It's my choice, so don't let anyone tell you differently.  I will take some time off to be with Al and Lily and you when you come home for the Yule holidays.  Perhaps we'll all go skiing this year.

I miss you very much.  I can't wait until Christmas.


Dear Mum and Dad,

I know you said I shouldn't get into any fights, but Knight was asking for it.  He wouldn't stop waving that picture of Dad in everyone's face and telling them that Ben and me are probably in love too.  So, I hexed him.

Professor McGonagall gave us both detention.  She's making us write twelve inches about Dad!  And we have to present it to the whole school on Sunday.  It's not fair.  I already have a billion inches to do for Potions and another forty thousand for Transfiguration.  Everyone knows that Dad defeated Voldemort.  How am I supposed to turn that into twelve inches?

To top it all off, all the stupid girls in Gryffindor have cut out that picture of Dad in his knickers. It's so embarrassing!

I know I'm supposed to not care, but it's not easy being your son. 


P.S. I'm running out of parchment.


Dear Dad,

Is it true that you're a Parselmouth?  Did you really fight Voldemort in your first year?  And have you really been in the Chamber of Secrets? 

I can't believe you tell me off about obeying the rules.  Merlin, you must have some kind of record here.  Do you know how embarrassing it is to learn about your dad from a Slytherin?

No one cares about the article now, by the way.  After Knight presented his paper about you, everyone is just amazed by all the stuff you did when you were a kid.  I knew you fought Voldemort, but I didn't know you'd been doing it FOREVER.  And that you, Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were in a battle at the Ministry of Magic when you were like fifteen!  You got in loads more trouble than I could ever get into.

Professor McGonagall told me off about the poor work I did on the paper.  She said I should have done more research, but I shouldn't have to.  I live with you.  Why don't you ever tell me anything?

The stupid girls still carry your picture around and try to get me to tell them about what you're like.  I mean, you're my DAD.  You're like my DAD.

Thanks for the parchment.  Any chance of getting some chocolate frogs?




23 December 2016

Hey you,

I no longer know why I bother writing to you, but I can't help myself.  I am the endless optimist.

Actually, I don't think that has ever been less true.  You may be happy to know I've stopped dating.  You may not give a toss actually.  If you do care about it, I don't reckon I'll ever know.  Anyway, I've stopped dating.  There was a mess a couple of months back that involved scandalous photos, death threats, MLE surveillance and memory modifications.  The whole affair served to remind me that I am Harry Potter.  As such, I cannot enjoy the same level of freedom as everyone else.  Those I grow close to will be targets for those who want to destroy me – figuratively and literally. 

I got sacked over it.  Or rather, my boss wanted to sack me but got blocked by Kingsley.  I quit anyway.  I can't work for an imbecile, and the head of the MLE, George Paisley, is an imbecile.  He's also dead set on being made Minister of Magic in 2018 and took my frequent appearances in the Prophet as a political move on my part to keep the spotlight off of him.  He's a fucking idiot, and now that I don't have professional constraints, I speak often and loudly about just how big an idiot he is.

So, I'm unemployed and have lots of time on my hands with which to contemplate just how bloody lonely I am.  James is back from school, and on Boxing Day I'm taking the family to the French Alps to go skiing.  Don't worry.  I know better than to take them to the chalet.  That secret remains safe in case you ever need it.

I've been spending a lot of time with Al and Lily.  They're really great kids.  I knew that before, but you miss a lot when you spend most of your time at work.  Lily's wickedly clever if not a bit manipulative.  Of all my kids, she's the one most likely to end in Slytherin, I think.  She doesn't like to be told no, and her magic works for her.  She can't control it, of course, but it's hard to remember that when you find her room littered with puffskeins that were once her toys just after you told her that she couldn't have a puffskein until she was old enough to take care of one. 

Albus is sensitive and pensive.  He's an excellent judge of character and has a way of looking at people that makes you believe he can see every sin they've committed.  I think you'd like him, despite his resemblance to me.  He reminds me a bit of you.  Or rather, what you might have been if your childhood hadn't been so shit.

Have I mentioned I miss you yet? 

I do.  Please write.


Chapter Text

Harry apparated just outside the chalet and trudged through the deep snow to get to the porch, which was buried under tall piles of fresh snow on top of what turned out to be thick ice.  Harry tread carefully, waving his wand in front of him to melt a path to the door.

He was looking forward to the time alone.  He'd enjoyed spending the last three months with his children, getting to know their little quirks and caprices that made them the remarkable human beings they were.  It had been an eye-opening experience.  He'd always spent as much time as he could with his family, and he would have claimed before to know his children as well as a father should.  It was only being around them all day every day, that he realised how little he'd actually understood them.  At the beginning, it had been a difficult run.  Between Albus' sensitivity and Lily's manipulations, there were days when Harry thought he might go mad.  All three of them had gone through a fair amount of adjustment, and now, Harry was happy to say, they got on famously. 

As invaluable as the past three months had been, Harry was getting restless.  It had been fairly easy to throw himself into family life and forget about the rest, but now he was itching to move on.  The seclusion the chalet would give him would allow him to sort his thoughts out and decide what he wanted to do next.

He hadn't been completely inactive in public life.  He took every chance he had to publicly criticise the mess Paisley was making of the MLE.  The man was slowly destroying all that Harry had worked to build over the years.  Budget cuts decided at the end of the year would half the force dedicated to the Muggle Crime Unit.  Paisley had garnered public support of the cuts, selling it on the principle that "We should take care of our own first."  What it amounted to, of course, was a free pass for bigots to commit crimes against Muggles with little fear of being found out, as there was simply no one left to investigate the Muggles' 'unsolved mysteries'.  The unit still existed, and so the agreement made with the Muggle government at the end of the war was still technically fulfilled, but now it was a token effort with no real power attached.

The man was publicly shown as making sure there was a greater presence of Aurors in the communities.  It gave people a sense of security, with little behind it.  The Aurors on the streets were too busy smiling for the cameras to do any real work.  In a few short months, the man had turned a force of competent, powerful and effective Aurors into a band of trained monkeys, performing a role for the people while doing nothing useful to resolve their issues.

The cracks were beginning to show, but were not yet wide or deep enough to be seen by those not looking for them.  Harry was looking for them.  A spate of potions-related deaths in Knockturn Alley were dismissed as terrible, but to be expected for the types of undesirables who inhabited the area.  The Muggle papers were discussing a new mystery drug that had the unfortunate side effect of putting some users into a catatonic state.

Kelly had made the same connections Harry had, but was advised to stand down and directed instead to investigate claims that a group of vampires in Essex were taking blood slaves among the Muggles there.  They were claims that, if true, would be worthy of investigation.  Given the source of the complaints, however – a malicious old witch whose hatred of non-wizards came down from the ages – the allegations were probably baseless.  Just as it was baseless when the same woman claimed that her house elf was poisoning her or that her half-blood neighbours' kneazle was spying on her.

The MLE had become a shambles.  The new Head Auror, Tyson Montague, was a great Auror, but didn't have the finesse required to manage the head of the MLE.  Harry had been very good at giving the impression that Paisley's directives were being followed, while expending the greater amount of the force's energy on what really mattered.

Harry had forfeited his right to do anything about it, as Hermione never stopped reminding him.  Paisley's strategy to investigate what the People were concerned about would make him wildly popular up to the point where all the issues the People didn't know they should be concerned about became too large to easily handle.  Harry was waiting for the avalanche that he feared was now inevitable.  He just hoped when the man's rhetoric and empty political strategies were brought into the light, the damage would not be irreparable.

Harry had come here to get away from all of it.  He pushed through the door and closed it behind him, effectively closing himself off from the world he had made it his hobby to watch over the past twenty years.  He was on holiday from it all.  He pulled off his boots and shrugged out of his winter coat.  An unexpected pang of regret came at the sight of Severus' ski jacket and trousers hung from the hook by the door.  The man's skis were propped against the wall. 

It wasn't unexpected that they should be there, but it reminded Harry that Severus was one of those things from which he needed to escape.  How could one escape from someone else's absence? He couldn't, he knew.  No matter how many times he'd tried to stop caring that the man was, for all intents and purposes, missing, it was impossible.  He tried to remind himself that this wasn't the first time he'd gone a year without hearing from the man.  Knowing the man's state of mind the last time he'd heard from him, Harry couldn't help but fear the worst.

Harry hung his coat and walked resolutely into the sitting room.  His nose wrinkled at the stale smell in there.  It smelled as if something had died, and Harry wondered if Severus had forgotten to erect the wards the last time he'd left to keep out the forest animals.  He waved his wand to light the lamps and walked to the window to throw it open.  A faint groan from the direction of the sofa made his heart seize up.

"Severus?" Harry breathed, barely able to get the sound past the tightness in his throat.  His heart thundered as he walked over to the sofa to look down on the prone figure on the sofa.  A loud snore emanated from him, and Harry couldn't decide if he wanted to laugh or to cry.

He did neither.  Instead, he lit a fire in the cold fireplace and surveyed the mess of empty wine bottles and glasses littered around the sofa.  Severus didn't stir, didn't even realise that there was someone there, watching him.  That, more than the mess, alarmed Harry.  It was so unlike the normally vigilant wizard that it made Harry vaguely angry.  The man had no care for his safety and, judging by the smell, he'd stopped caring about hygiene as well.

But he was alive, Harry told himself, and at the moment, the rest of it didn't matter.  Harry went to the kitchen to start a pot of tea steeping, and then went to his bedroom to deposit his things.  It became clear that Severus had spent at least one night in his room, as his bed, normally stripped during times of absence, was a twisted mess of sheets.  Two empty wine bottles sat on his bedside table.  Harry went across the hall to inspect the man's own bedroom, which mirrored the mess he saw in the sitting room.  Bottles and potions phials covered the man's night stand and lined his bed.  Harry frowned and banished the lot before turning back to the sitting room to tend to the mess there.  He prepared two mugs of tea, making Severus' particularly strong, and went to kneel beside the sofa.

"Sev," he whispered, cautiously reaching out to pull back the lanky, greasy hair from the man's face.  The man shifted onto his side.  He clutched an oddly shaped glass bottle to his chest and let out a low moan that rode on a sigh.  He gave no sign of waking, and so Harry reached out to prise the glass bottle from his protective grip.  He held it up to the light and saw that it contained some sort of powder.  When he started to pull the stopper out so as to better inspect the contents, he was stopped by the tip of a wand pointed to his head.  Severus' eyes glittered in the dim light of the fire.

"What are you doing here?" the man demanded in a rough voice.

Harry frowned at the man's greeting.  "You smell," he said.

"Give it back," Severus growled, raising himself to his elbow, and then collapsing again to the sofa, clutching his head.

Harry dropped the thing beside the man and shifted to see him better.  "Oh, Severus," he said after a moment and reached out to touch the man's shoulder.

Severus shrugged off the touch and pushed himself to a seated position, looking every bit as haggard as Harry would have expected.  He wasn't pale exactly.  In fact, he looked as though he'd recently spent a lot of time in the sun.  But he looked gaunt and exhausted.  Several days' worth of beard coloured his jaw, making him look even thinner.  Severus didn't sport the unshaven look well at all.  "You're a mess," Harry pointed out.

Severus put a token amount of effort into glaring at him, but his hangover made it completely ineffective.  "You're supposed to be in France," the man snarled, cradling his head.

"At least I know you've been receiving my owls," Harry said with a hint of accusation.  He moved up to sit beside the man.  "How long have you been here?"

Severus remained stubbornly silent.  Harry passed over the mug of tea.  Severus' hand trembled as he took it.

"I have something for your headache, if you want," Harry offered.

"What are you doing here?" Severus demanded, his words slightly slurred.

Harry's temper flared.  He wasn't in the right state of mind to put up with Severus' hatefulness.  Normally, he could see past it to the vulnerability that powered it, but this time, he just found it irritating.  He didn't deserve this treatment, and the chalet technically belonged to him.  "Same thing you're doing here, I suppose," he spat back.  "So sorry if I've interrupted your attempt to drown yourself in wine."  Harry stood, intent on leaving the man to his misery.  "I'm glad to know you're not dead.  Yet."

Harry took his tea to his bedroom and surveyed what the man had left behind.  He banished the stray bottles and stripped his bed of the dirty sheets and the duvet of the cover.  The task helped to calm him enough to allow worry over the man to trickle back in.  As he made up the bed, he could hear the tell tale signs of movement in the hallway and heard the click of a door shutting followed swiftly by the sound of retching.

Harry buried his face in his hands.  For a long moment, he stood wishing the other man away.  He was weary and ill-equipped to deal with Severus and his existential crises.  He could see the man still suffered from the loss of his partner, but couldn't help but feel slighted by the knowledge that his own love for the man clearly meant nothing to him.  He'd always been there for Severus.  Since the beginning of this affair, whenever the man needed him, Harry had helped.  While the man played the role of Harry's begrudging confidant, their relationship had always been one-sided.

It had been years since Harry had examined his feelings toward the other man.  He took it for granted that the feelings were reciprocated, even if they'd never be clearly expressed.  It seemed ridiculous now that he believed Severus cared for him at all, given the man's complete disregard of him over the years.  Once, ages ago, he'd chosen Harry over David.  He couldn't help but wonder now if Severus wasn't telling the truth when he said that he'd just done so in protest of the ultimatum put to him.

Harry stared at his trunk on the floor and debated leaving.  He could go some place else.  Some place neutral where he could truly get away from the worries that plagued him.  Even as he imagined turning around and walking out the door, he knew he could never do it.  Faced with the mess Severus had become, he would never forgive himself for not trying to save him from himself.  It simply wasn't in him. 

Harry sighed and walked to the bathroom.  He didn't bother knocking but entered to see the man kneeling before the toilet, his cheek pressed against the seat.  His face was ashen, and his breaths came in quick, uneven gasps.  After a few seconds, the man groaned and heaved again. 

Harry came forward and gathered the man's hair back away from his face, stroking his back as he spit and coughed into the bowl.  Severus rested his arms on the back of the toilet seat and pressed his forehead against them, waiting for either his stomach to settle or to heave again.  Harry tried not to wonder just how frequently the man found himself in this condition.

"Leave me alone," Severus pleaded.

"I wish I could," Harry answered.  His hand continued to pet the man, feeling the sharp edges of bones that were too prominent.  Harry reached back to flush the mess down before standing, summoning a glass and filling it with water.  "Here," he said, handing it to the man.  "Drink this.  I'll fetch something to settle your stomach," he said.  Within a few moments, he'd fetched the potion against indigestion and brought it to the man, who'd slumped to the floor to put his face against the cool stone tiles.  Severus sneered as Harry proffered the phial, but took it, swallowing back the white liquid.  For a moment, he looked as though he might sick up again, but eventually relaxed back to the floor.  Harry took a seat beside him and pulled his knees up to his chest.

"You're angry with me," Severus said quietly.

"You're an arsehole."

"You're not supposed to be here," the man mumbled.  "You're not supposed to see this." 

Harry looked down at the man, who'd thrown his arms over his face to block out the light.  He'd seen the man pissed before, but never to this level. He regretted not bringing pepper-up potion, which would have served to sober the man up a little.  He'd not anticipated needing it.  "I suppose it's Fate," he said wearily. 

"Fate," the other man repeated on a breath. 

"Come on.  Let's get you cleaned up and off to bed," Harry said. 

"Don't want to go to bed," Severus protested feebly.

Harry ignored him and began the arduous task of peeling the man's clothes off his limp form.  Severus did little to aid in his effort, but eventually Harry prevailed.  He tried not to notice that the man looked as though he'd not eaten in a year, but the sight of his emaciated frame was too shocking to ignore.  "God, Sev.  What have you done to yourself?" he whispered before shedding his own clothes.  He had little hope that the man would manage to clean himself in his current state, and he was filled with the need to wash away the stench of misery.

Severus propped himself in the corner of the shower, compliantly shifting himself at Harry's gentle urging.  Harry lathered his hair, massaging the soap into the man's scalp with the same care he would show his children.  He spread the soap over the man's body and, with a clinical indifference, over his flaccid cock.  Once he'd seen that the man was properly clean, he guided him out and dried him with a clean towel from his trunk.  Severus kept his eyes closed and his head bowed, a crease in his brow speaking of a protest he lacked the control necessary to express. 

Harry took him to his own room where the bedding was fresh and waiting for him.  He'd get Severus' room sorted out later and perhaps sleep in there.  As he urged Severus into the bed, Severus' arm reached out to stop him leaving.  "Don't go," the man muttered drunkenly.  Harry looked at the man uncertainly, but resolved to stay with him until he fell asleep.  He crawled into the bed next to him and, after a moment of pretending to himself he was too angry to care, gave in to the urge to hold the man close.

Harry awoke sometime later.  Night had fallen, and his room was cast in the light of the moon reflected off the snow outside.  He took a moment to register the warm body pressed up against him and moved his hips back so as not to disturb him.  His irritation with the man was in equal measure to his concern.  Harry wrapped his arms a bit tighter around the frail body and kissed the back of the man's neck.

"I'm sorry," Severus croaked into the night.

"What for?"  Harry asked, by which he did not mean, 'Don't be'.  Rather, Harry was curious to know for which of the many transgressions Severus felt it necessary to apologise. 

"If I'd have known you were coming..."

"You'd have left before I got here," Harry finished coldly.  He wasn't sorry for worrying Harry over the past year.  He wasn't sorry for the pathetic state in which he'd been found.  He was sorry he'd been found, full stop.

"It's not about you, Harry," Severus muttered sullenly.

Harry released the man with a disgusted snort and rolled away.  "It never is," he said.  That was the heart of the problem.  He'd spent the better part of twenty years caring for this man, but at the end of the day, he could drop off the face of the planet, and Severus might never notice.  He understood that Severus was suffering.  He could see what his loss had done to him, but at the moment, Harry's sympathy had run dry.  The man was at least as self-centred as he'd always accused Harry of being.  He'd let his misery consume his life until nothing existed but him and his grief.

"What does that mean?"

"Never mind.  Go back to sleep," Harry said.  "I'll take the sofa."

He slipped out of bed and opened his trunk to search for his pyjamas.

"I'll take the sofa," Severus said, his voice laden with misplaced dignity.

"Why?  So you can drink yourself to sleep again?" Harry said nastily.

"What business is it of yours?" Severus growled, trying to push past him.

Cold anger surged within Harry.  His upper lip curled.  "If you're going to fucking kill yourself, find somewhere else to do it," he spat.

Severus' eyes narrowed.  "If I were trying to kill myself, you can be sure I'll use something more effective than wine."

"Is that what's in the bottle you were cuddling when I came in?  Your fucking escape plan?" Harry shouted.

Severus stared at him for a moment before laughing.  "Something like that," he said nastily.  "But don't worry.  I won't sully your precious hiding place with my death, Potter."

"How generous of you," Harry said acidly.  "Am I supposed to thank you for your consideration?"

"What the fuck is your problem?" Severus shouted.

Harry laughed bitterly.  "If you don't know, I can't help you."  He bent down to pull out the bottle of whisky he'd brought along and shoved it at the man.  "Here.  Knock yourself out," he said coldly.  "You may want to eat so that you have something to sick up later."

Severus' eyes glittered menacingly in the moonlight.  His black hair framed his skeletal face, longer than Harry had seen it in years.  The hard, mean, thunderous expression on the man's face was rendered ineffective by the man's nakedness, which made him look frail and sickly.  Harry sneered angrily and stepped to the side, inviting the man to take his leave. 

At a loss for words, Severus stormed past him and slammed the door to Harry's bedroom, leaving behind a startled silence.  Harry pulled on his pyjamas before returning to bed.

He didn't know what to do next.  He'd come to the chalet to find the peace he needed to make sense of his life, but that sort of peace was now unattainable.  If he persisted, he felt relatively certain that he and Severus would eventually forge a truce.  Given a bit of time, he thought he might even be able to coax the man out of his downward spiral of self-destruction.

He simply didn't have the energy to devote to the task of saving someone who, by all appearances, had no interest in being saved.  While he cared a great deal for his old friend, he was tired of fighting to occupy a small corner of the man's consciousness.  It was a losing battle when the man seemed intent on forgetting him, and Harry was sick to death of making a fool of himself.

He'd go in the morning.  He'd take his leave and let Severus do what it was he needed to do.  His curiosity as to what Severus had been doing this past year was not strong enough to warrant the effort of extracting the information from the man.  Judging by the mess he'd come into, it wasn't likely Severus would stay sober long enough to be able to recount the tale. 

Harry would make it clear that he remained available if the man should ever need him, but that he was surrendering.  It was too hard, and Harry was too tired to continue.  Of all the different aspects of his life that caused him distress, this small thing was the easiest to let go.  He would just stop writing.  And after awhile, he'd stop stopping himself from writing.  He'd wonder from time to time what had become of the man, but he imagined with time, the worry would fade to a mild stirring of curiosity. 

It was a plan.  Not a great plan, and his heart clenched in protest, but he had little choice in the matter.  He couldn't stay here, as doing so would only make things worse for both of them.  He had his own life to think about, and Severus, despite all evidence to the contrary, could take care of himself.

His resolution didn't make it easier to sleep, however, and by morning he'd changed his mind at least a dozen times.  When he slipped out of bed, he was once again firm in his decision to go and, after dressing, shrunk his trunk and put it in his pocket.

The scent of lemon emanated from the front room as he approached.  It appeared as though the man had spent the rest of the night cleaning.  There were no dishes in the sink.  All evidence of the time spent in squalor had been banished.  Harry could see the man's head through the window and knew that Severus had taken up his ritual of watching the morning dawn across the Alps.  He accepted the tidiness of the room as something of a peace offering, and decided that the least he could do was to acknowledge it.  He poured himself a mug of tea and, after putting on his coat and boots, went out to join the man.  He sat down next to him and stared out into the morning.  Neither of them spoke for a long moment, and the bubble of the warming charm in which they sat became laden with all that was not being said.

Harry broke the silence first.  "I'm going," he said quietly.

Severus turned to look at him now.  Harry registered the surprise in the man's eyes, which promptly dulled over again before he turned to stare straight ahead.  "Don't leave on my account.  If you want to be alone, I'll go."  His voice sounded as though he'd swallowed sandpaper.  There was little force powering it.  He sounded uncharacteristically defeated.

"Where?" Harry challenged.  He supposed if the man were here, it was because he didn't know where else to go.  The man's silence confirmed Harry's assumptions.  "Forget it.  I'm going," Harry sighed and took a drink from his cup.

"That's it, then?  No interrogations as to my whereabouts over the past year?  No lectures in regards to the state in which you found me?"

"Would it do any good?" Harry said coldly.

"Has that ever stopped you before?"

"I've decided to focus my energies on those battles I can still win.  I can make myself sick worrying about you, but as you appear to be hell-bent on self-destruction, I prefer to walk away while I still have enough good memories of you to remember you well."  His voice was steadier than his nerves and for that he was thankful.  It would be far too easy to fall back into the trap of rising to the man's provocations.

After a long moment, Severus snorted mirthlessly.  "You're the last person in the world I thought would give up on me," he said quietly.

And damn it, Harry rose to the bait.  "Give up on you?  Are you fucking serious?  It's been a year, Severus.  A fucking year without any word apart from a demand that I leave you alone.  So, yes.  I'm giving up.  As I should have done years ago.  As anyone with a shred of self-respect would have done."

"It's been a rather rough year, Potter," Severus snapped.

"You think you're the only one with problems?  Do you ever step outside that little bubble of misery of yours to think about anyone else?  There are people out there who care about you, Severus.  God knows, I have my own problems, but that never stopped me from worrying about you and wondering how you're getting on.  And how do you repay everyone?  You sulk off, shut us all out, and pretend you're dead.  Well, fine.  I'll play along.  I'll go home, mourn you and then move on with my life."

"I told you I had something to do!"

Harry sneered and shook his head.  "Something that kept you from reporting back to those of us desperate to know if you were all right?"

"I hardly have a parliament of owls at my disposition."

"Any one of the owls I sent to you would have waited for a reply," Harry seethed.  "The fact is you don't care, Severus.  And that's fine.  I just wish I'd have realised that years ago and saved myself the fucking heartache."

"We agreed to once a year."

"For fuck's sake, you impossible bastard.  That was an agreement made by two people who had little more than tragedy in common!" Harry shouted.  "I would have thought we moved on from there.  I had hoped-"

He'd hoped he meant significantly more than that to the man, after everything.  He'd hoped the man would want to keep Harry in his life – not out of some stupid obligation, but out of ... Well, love.  "Pointless," Harry spat and stood, banishing his cup away.  "I'm going.  I hereby absolve you from any promise I forced out of you and wish you well," he said with a tight formality that spoke of barely restrained anger.  He stepped off the porch and into a deep pile of snow that reached his thighs.

It wasn't the dramatic get away he'd hoped for, and his rage surged as he found himself struggling to move out of the drift.  He pulled his wand and took aim, trying to melt enough snow to gain the momentum required for Apparation.

"I didn't write because I had little to say," Severus said, watching Harry struggle with the snow.  "David left me a last fucking quest and I – damn it, Potter, would you stop and listen to me!"

"Why?" Harry growled.  "You have nothing to say," he reminded the man with an impertinent scowl as he continued to struggle against the restraining snow and ice.  "Not: don't worry, Harry,  I'm fine.  Not: sorry to hear your life is crap, but I'm here if you need me.  Not: I'm not dead yet, but I'm not fucking far off!  Fuck!" He shouted in frustration and blasted a clearing in the snow around him.

A terrible creak resounded against the towering rocks surrounding them, followed by a low rumble of thunder.  A sheet of ice and snow a few metres downhill shifted and then slid down with a terrible roar toward the valley.  "Shit," Harry said, stunned at the sight.   He fervently hoped there were no skiers caught up in the result of his temper tantrum.  He put his hand to his forehead and listened to the thunder echoing in the distance.

"Well done," Severus said blandly. 

Harry couldn't turn around.  He'd hex the man if he saw the smugness on his face.  "Goodbye, Severus," he said in a low voice and turned to apparate.

"Please don't go."

It was the 'please' that stopped him and the lack of malice in the man's voice.  Harry stopped mid-spin and looked up to meet the man's eyes.  He didn't want to see the desperation there, because he knew that once he acknowledged it, he had to care about the sentiment behind it.  He didn't want to care anymore.  He got so little in return.  "Why?" he said, stubbornly averting his gaze to the porch before him.

The answer he sought wasn't readily available, and he didn't have the patience to wait for it.  He huffed and began to turn again.

"Because I was supposed to leave yesterday, and I didn't go.  And you and I both know if you leave, you'll regret it."

"I can't do it anymore.  I won't," Harry said, raising his eyes. 

Severus' eyes had regained a bit of their intensity as he met Harry's.  "Give me two days," he said firmly.

Harry sighed and shook his head.  "No."

"One day."


"Please.  If you still want to leave tomorrow, I won't stop you."

"You know as well as I do that if I stay, I'm not leaving tomorrow!"

The corner of Severus mouth quirked up in amusement.  "I'm rather counting on it," he admitted.

"I'm really fucking angry with you!"

Severus nodded solemnly.  "I can see that."

"And you fucking deserve it."

"I do."

"Stop!  Don't you dare start being agreeable.  You are such a fucking bastard.  You ignore me for a fucking year, and suddenly you want me around?  What do you want me to do with th-"

A large crack sounded suddenly overhead, and before Harry could look toward it, a huge sheet of snow fell from the roof to cover him.  Harry fell onto his arse under the weight of it.  "Did you do that?" Harry growled when he freed his head from the pile and fought to get back to his feet.  Severus' jaw was clenched, and his mouth was drawn into a very tight line.  Unless Harry was mistaken, the man's eyes were welling up with the effort of keeping his laughter inside.  Harry narrowed his eyes.  "Did you?"

"Of course not," Severus said primly and then turned to walk back into the chalet.

As Severus surely knew he would, Harry followed.


The two men sat to eat their breakfast in resentful silence.  Resentful for Harry's part, awkward for Severus'.  He had a lot of explaining to do, and a fair amount of making amends, and he was notoriously rubbish at both.  The longer he left it, the worse the silence became until it festered. Severus could practically hear Harry's patience tighten to the breaking point.

"So what happened with the MLE?" Severus asked carefully, laying down his fork.

The question appeared to take a bit of wind out of the man's sails, and he sighed, relaxing back to his chair.  "It's a long story," Harry muttered miserably.

"We have all day," Severus remarked.

"I'd rather hear what you've been doing," Harry said pointedly.

Severus took up his mug of tea to wet his mouth before launching into his tale.  "David was cremated," he explained.  "In his will he left instructions for what to do with his ashes.  He had a list of nine places he never made it to and very detailed instructions on how to dispose of his remains."

An initial look of surprise faded to one of fond remembrance.  "He told me that he'd left something to keep you occupied for a while," he admitted.

Severus snorted.  "He chose the places well," he said.  "I can now say I've been to every continent apart from Antarctica and went to places I would never have dreamt of going.  Most of which required days of trekking, followed by days of waiting for the right moment to spill his ashes. Siberia," Severus spat, shaking his head.  "Do you know what's in Siberia? Nothing at all.  Did you know that one of the supposed sources of the Nile is nothing but a spit of water in a remote forest in Rwanda?"

Harry smiled and shook his head.  "So ... are you finished then?"

Severus frowned.  "Not yet," he said.  "There's one more place."

Realisation lit up the man's eyes.  "That's what was in the bottle you were holding," he said.

Severus nodded.  One more lot of ashes to deposit.  David would have anticipated Severus' reluctance to go to the last place, and would have been equally sure that Severus wouldn't stop until he'd fulfilled the man's dying wish.  One couldn't live with someone for so long without understanding the way they worked, after all, and David had been a particularly astute judge of character.

"So, where?" Harry asked.

Severus met Harry's eyes.  "Hogwarts," he said quietly.

The man's eyes widened with surprise and then wrinkled in sympathy.  "Wow.  He was good," he breathed, mouth curling into an appreciative smile.

Severus lowered his eyes and shook his head.  "I can't go back there," he said quietly.  He'd been sitting at the chalet for the past three weeks trying to gather the courage to go.  It wasn't just the memories that stopped him.  It wasn't just the fear of being discovered.  It wasn't even just his reluctance to let this last part of his deceased partner go.  It was all of it.  Added to it was the fear that whatever spell he used to slip in and out of the grounds would not be enough to fool the castle itself.  The castle would know he was alive.  Severus couldn't be certain how he'd be received.

"But you will," Harry said with absolute confidence. 

"You could help," Severus tried, but it was a little too soon to be calling in favours, and so he was unsurprised by the man's silent rejection of the idea.

"I really couldn't," Harry said firmly. 

"I'd intended to go during the Yule holidays," Severus explained.  "I arrived here a week before Christmas and then..."

"You decided to drink yourself to death instead," Harry finished in an accusatory tone.

Severus glared.  "Do you think this is easy for me?"

Harry shook his head.  "No.  Is it supposed to be?  No," Harry spat, answering his own question.  "And none of this explains why you couldn't pick up a pen and write one single word to let me know you were all right," the man said angrily. 

"Do I look all right?  Was I supposed to pour my heart out onto a page?  Do you know me at all?" Severus shouted.

"You look like shit, actually," the man said calmly. "To be fair, I don't suppose there's a lot to eat in Siberia."  The man offered a wry smile as a truce flag.

Severus snorted and looked down at his half-eaten breakfast.  He picked up his fork and forced himself to continue as a show of good faith.  "I haven't been drinking myself to death," he muttered sullenly.  "I just got ... stuck here," he admitted. 

"I'm glad," Harry said.  "I'm piss mad at you, but at least I know where you are.  And judging by the state I found you in, I arrived just in time."

Severus clenched his jaw against a protest that he didn't need Potter to save him.  That he was fully capable of taking care of himself.  He knew very well what things must have looked like to the man when he arrived the night before. Severus would have stopped eventually.  It certainly wasn't the first time he'd drunk himself into a stupor that lasted several weeks.  The last time, to be fair, was the first time he'd arrived here after the war, but he'd pulled himself out of it.  He would have done so again, when he was ready.  He'd nearly left just the day before, in fact, but there were two more bottles of wine to be drunk, and so he resolved that he'd leave today.  Or perhaps tomorrow after the hangover had waned.

The problem was that Severus couldn't let his dignity power these protests.  They were counter-productive to getting the other man to agree to complete his quest on his behalf.  Harry certainly didn't owe him any favours.  If anything, the scales were rather sharply tipped the other way.  Severus could acknowledge a slight amount of guilt for planning to take advantage of the man's inexhaustible supply of charity, but this was one hurdle that he couldn't pass.  He could not rest until the job was done.

So, Severus kept his mouth occupied with finishing his eggs and toast and tucked away his pride.  "Tell me about your job," he urged, redirecting the conversation.

A stormy expression crossed the other man's face.  "I've told you a bit of it.  The head of the MLE, a bloke called Paisley-"

"I knew him from school," Severus said with a nod.  "He was a few years ahead of me," he said.  "Gryffindor, if memory serves."  He couldn't quite keep the smirk from his lips.

Harry grunted.  "Yeah, well.  So was Pettigrew.  I suppose there's good and bad in all the houses," he said, with a pointed frown.  "Anyway, he'd launched an unofficial campaign to run for Minister once Kingsley steps down in 2018.  He was put out that my divorce and social life got more press than him and wanted me out."

"You told me that.  You mentioned scandalous photos and death threats," he prodded.

Harry frowned and nodded.  "I don't really want to talk about that," he said.  "It was just a smoke screen anyway.  Paisley used it as an excuse to try and get rid of me.  It just gave me the kick in the arse I needed to quit."

Severus' mind snagged on the topic that must not be discussed and the mystery surrounding it.  The man's letter had been uncharacteristically vague after so many years of telling all, that Severus couldn't help but be intrigued and, admittedly, concerned.  It was clear the subject still troubled the man, and Severus didn't know what it meant that he was no longer being entrusted with delicate information.

"Why don't you want to talk about it?" Severus challenged.

"Are you finished?" Harry said, nodding toward Severus' plate.

Severus met Harry's eyes, which had never before been so guarded, and nodded.


If there was something Severus knew he could count on, it was that Harry Potter would always be there for him.  It was an absolute truth that occupied a corner of his mind during his darkest hours and gave him the reassurance he needed to weather whatever storm he faced.  Harry was his failsafe.  His last resort.

So when the man stood in front of him the next morning and announced that he was leaving, Severus felt his reality give a violent lurch.  "Why?"

"You said you wouldn't stop me," Harry reminded him.

"You're still angry with me," Severus said with a frown.  They'd spent a pleasant, if uncharacteristically distant evening together discussing Severus' travels, Harry's children, his career prospects.  It was true that it lacked their usual flirtatious banter, but given the circumstances, that was to be expected.  It was also true that Severus had been repeatedly surprised by the utter absence of physical contact, the reassuring pats on the shoulder or the accidental brushes.  Harry had kept to his side of the sofa throughout the night and had exchanged only a good night when the evening's discussion had ended.  While Severus had found it unusual given the man's normally affectionate ways, he'd put it down to Harry being respectful of Severus' loss.

"I'm not exactly," Harry said.  "Last night was ..."  He struggled to find a word to describe the insufferably polite evening spent together.  "I'm not angry.  But you have things to do, and I have a life to get on with."

"You're on holiday," Severus pointed out, panicking slightly at the prospect of the things he had to do.  The thing he had intended to plead with the man to do on his behalf.  Once things were less cordial.  Once Harry was better disposed toward him.  Once their friendship – tattered as it now was from Severus' mindless neglect – was mended.

"I'm unemployed," Harry said.  "I've been on holiday for months."

Severus frowned.  "I don't understand.  Just weeks ago you sent me a letter claiming to miss me, and now you're leaving?"

Harry lowered his gaze and took a deep breath.  "I do miss you.  Or rather, I miss ..."  He shook his head.  "It doesn't matter.  I just have to go.  Good luck with your trip," he said with a small, fleeting smile.  He offered a hand in farewell and then dropped it awkwardly when Severus stared at him incredulously.  "Bye," he muttered.

"Harry!" Severus barked, standing.  "Please.  Just ...  just do one last thing for me.  Please," he said, trying to find the calm required to make his request sound slightly less desperate.

Harry turned and raised his eyebrows expectantly.  For a moment, his eyes glittered as they always used to when he'd look at Severus.  Full of admiration and affection.  Severus seized on that look and let it give him hope that his request might be honoured.  "Take him to Hogwarts.  It will be the last thing I ever ask you for," Severus promised.

The man's eyes flashed angrily.  "Someday, Severus, I fervently hope you'll realise why that was the stupidest thing you could have ever said to me," he said in a cold voice that trembled slightly.  Severus watched, dumbstruck as the murderous look with which his request was met was pulled into a calm expression as the man prepared himself to apparate.  Severus watched the man swivel on the spot and disappear without a sound. 

Severus stared at the spot where Harry had been standing.  His face was pulled into a bemused expression at the man's parting words and the tone in which they'd been delivered.  His mind cast back over the conversation and looked for what might have caused those eyes to flash as viciously as the Killing Curse.  After so many months of virtually ignoring the man, he could see why Harry might not be eager to do him any favours.  He'd expected reluctance.  He'd expected mild annoyance.  The man's response, however, seemed grossly disproportionate.

Particularly considering Harry should understand why Severus couldn't be the one to do it.  Getting on the grounds would be risky enough, but sprinkling the ashes from the top of the Astronomy Tower on a windy day so that they could be scattered across the grounds would be nearly impossible for him to do without being detected.  The castle would know.  If the castle knew, the portraits would know.  If the portraits knew ... well, it simply couldn't be done.

Severus turned and walked back into the chalet as his mind went through the now familiar reflections.  What did it matter if he was caught?  He could just as easily jump off the tower and fly away with the ashes.  He didn't intend to survive long beyond the final task anyway, and so what would it matter if his dead, broken body were discovered?  His secret would be out, but he'd be past the point of caring by then.

That his last, definitive death would cause chaos and confusion at Hogwarts was regrettable, but largely acceptable to his point of view.  While he would prefer to pass silently without creating much of a stir, he could see the appeal of going out with dramatic flair, showing the entire Wizarding world just how skilfully he'd evaded them all these years.  All but one.  And therein lay the problem.

He couldn't do it to Harry.  There was no question as to how his death would affect the other man.  It would be difficult enough when the man received that promised letter of final farewell.  Even in Severus' darkest and most malicious moments, he would never consider subjecting the man to a physical manifestation of that death. 

Of course, given that the man had refused to make it possible for Severus to go quietly, he was indirectly responsible for whatever extreme measures Severus had to take to finish this one last thing.  If Severus were to have a very public death, at least he'd be spared the necessity of drafting that dreaded letter to Harry.  Any question as to his fate would be put to rest in one spectacular blow.

He'd been absolved of that promise, he remembered with an irritable scowl.  His mind cast back to the other man's temper tantrum of the day before and puzzled once again over the impetus.  He'd been caught in a rather wretched state, it was true, but he found it hard to believe that a few empty bottles and a bout of vomiting could be enough to turn the man against him.  Of all the unforgivable things he'd done to the man over the years, drunkenness seemed comparatively minor.

Severus and Harry had a relationship based on mutual understanding and an unspoken acceptance of one another's character flaws.  Appreciation of each other's qualities added substance to their relationship, but the foundation of the affair was forgiveness.  Severus was able to overlook Harry's tendency to martyr himself over every noble cause.  Harry, in turn, could soldier past Severus' defence mechanisms to disarm them from the inside.

What had changed?  There was a piece of the puzzle that Severus wasn't seeing, and he spent the morning and most of the afternoon re-examining the events of the past twenty-four hours to spot it.  Several times, he conceded defeat and damned the man for his enigmatic change of heart.  Each time, his mind would drift back and begin piecing through every word spoken, every guarded look, half-smile and scowl he'd received since yesterday.

It was an arduous task and Severus found himself lamenting having left behind his Penseive.  He toyed with the idea of writing to Harry to borrow one, so that he might better understand what he'd done that was so out of line that he managed to alienate his most loyal and faithful friend.  For if the exercise of re-examining events had taught him anything, it was that he'd lost Harry.

The idea bothered him more than Severus thought it should.  It should serve to make things significantly simpler.  Having severed this one, most tenacious of ties, Severus could now pass unfettered by conscience.  Harry had already told him that he planned to mourn him now so that he could 'move on' with his life.  Severus frowned at the memory.  Move on, indeed.  As though Severus had somehow held the man back.  It was patently absurd.  Severus was scarcely part of the man's life.

Naturally, that was part of the reason for the man's ire.  Severus had neglected his role of pen pal of late.  He regretted having done so now, for all the good it did him.  The trouble was he had no room in his mind for the inconsequential rubbish that passed for crisis in Harry's world.  Consumed as Severus was with grief and loss, taken as he was with his quest to put his partner to rest, he simply had no insight to lend toward the newest so-called problems the man encountered.

Getting divorced, Severus supposed, wasn't exactly insignificant.  But it resolved the problem of living the daily misery of being married to someone one didn't want.  He could see how it might be complicated by the fact that Harry lived under the critical eye of the public, who watched and reported on his every move, but it would appear that Harry had learnt to manage the press.  Losing one's job was also a genuine problem for most, but Harry had inherited the fortune of two of the wealthiest pureblood families, so it wasn't as if dire straits were a conceivable risk, even with a hoard of children to look after.

On the whole, every problem Harry had seemed to resolve itself without any input from Severus.  Severus' only role in the mail exchange was as reader and occasional commentator.  Surely, his lack of input hadn't at all hindered the other man's progression through life.

In fact, thinking about it, Severus had never offered advice or help of any kind.  He was there as an outlet for Harry's conflicted feelings about his sexuality.  He was the safe place in which to store the secrets he'd had to keep from his wife and from the world at large.  Now that Harry was, by all reports, out as a man who was willing to explore other men, Severus' role was rather redundant.

The epiphany hollowed Severus out.  This was the catalyst for which he'd been searching.  Harry no longer needed him.  Having come clean in regards to his proclivities, there was no need for him to continue to keep up his correspondence with the unresponsive, inconstant friend that Severus had proven himself to be.  For years, Harry had claimed that he needed Severus, that just knowing Severus was out there somewhere and listening was enough to help him be the person he was expected to be.  Now that he'd taken steps to consolidate his many facets, and now that he'd more or less written Severus off as dead anyway, his hasty departure was his way of ripping the plaster off quickly, as it were.

Severus closed his eyes and sighed heavily.  By unlocking the first mystery, all others began to unravel.  Severus' mind made connections he'd been too blind before to make.  Harry had guessed even before David's death that Severus would make plans to follow.  Despite Severus' refusal to deny or confirm the man's suspicions, Harry had planned for the worst.  He'd eked out a promise to be informed of the event when it occurred as a way of giving a hard stop to their relationship.

He'd know, of course, that Severus would insist on completing his mission.  Severus' request for Harry to do it in his place was tantamount to asking the man to slit Severus' throat.  It wasn't the task he objected to, it was the implications of that task.  It will be the last thing I'll ever ask you for.

He'd not meant his words to be taken in quite that way, but Harry's understanding was fuller than his initial meaning.  How could he have been so thoughtless?  How could it have taken him all day to work that out?  Severus could not be called sensitive, by any means, but he was normally far more careful with his words and utterly conscious of the effect his words might have.  When he intended to hurt, he hurt.  When he intended to cover the truth, his delivery was perfect.  He did not often misspeak.

He'd lost everything, and now his mind was going as well.  He'd spent a year in virtual silence, only speaking to local guides as a means to an end.   The consequences of such isolation were that he'd lost the habit of censoring his words, and thus, inadvertently wounded Harry, of all people.  Severus tried to reason with himself that Harry was already leaving at the time.  He'd already decided to abandon Severus to his fate.

Who could blame him?  The man had spent the last year sending monthly reminders to Severus of just how much he cared.  It was a transparent strategy to make it perfectly clear to Severus that he could never leave this world unnoticed.  However inconvenient Harry's feelings might have been, they were real, and Severus had a certain responsibility toward the man.  Severus had lost David and was now voluntarily inflicting that same pain onto Harry.

David, at least, had no choice in the matter.  He succumbed after a long fight and only after ensuring that Severus would live long enough to heal.  He saved Hogwarts for last, knowing full well that Harry would be at the end of that long, dark tunnel.  Severus' constant source of light.

"Fuck," Severus spat and covered his face with his hand.  He could have died peacefully without that bloody realisation, and now that everything was explained and his far too clever partner's plan was clear, offing himself would not only betray the truest friend he'd ever had, but it would betray his dead partner. There was no more wine left to drown the realisation. Severus suspected there wasn't enough wine in the world that could make him forget it now. 

 He cursed himself for a fool well into the night.  It was a testament to the depth of his grief  that he'd not surmised David's grand plan before.  Places he'd always wanted to see, indeed.  At times those places were nothing more than a peculiar shaped rock at the top of a hard to reach summit, so tenuously placed that Apparition was simply not possible.  Severus had played along with the well-orchestrated ruse because he respected his partner's wishes, and it was the least he could do after the man spent all those years putting up with him.  Severus had suspected that the inclusion of Hogwarts was at least partially meant to encourage Severus to face his past, but it had never occurred to him that he was being delivered to Harry.  David would have anticipated Severus requesting Harry's help.

Severus was less sure that the man had foreseen Harry's refusal.  He felt absolutely certain that he wouldn't have known that by the time Severus got around to asking for help, Harry would want nothing more to do with him.  As often as David had chided Severus for taking Harry for granted, Severus had never taken the words to heart until now.

And now, it was too late.  In just over a year he'd managed to lose the two men he loved most.  One was lost for good.  The other ...

Perhaps with a bit of care, he could mend that bridge. 

Perhaps it would be kinder to leave it damaged. 

Severus damned himself for a coward as his mind tried to seize that last thought and make a truth of it.  With the life that Harry had led, it would never be kinder to allow the man to believe himself unloved.  After all he'd done in the name of friendship for Severus, Severus at least owed him a sincere expression of gratitude. 

Dear Harry,

It took me all day to puzzle out what I had done to make you so angry.  I tell you this in the hopes that you will see just how addled my brain has become.  I'd like you to know that I didn't mean the words to be interpreted in the way that you did, but I can hardly deny the truth you saw in them.

I'm sorry.  For every letter that went unanswered, and for every expression of affection that went unacknowledged.  You have been there for me through everything, helping me even when I wouldn't recognise that I needed help.  I have given you nothing in return.  I don't expect your forgiveness.  I don't deserve your forgiveness.  I can only hope that you believe me when I tell you that, while I may have taken you for granted, I've always considered myself fortunate to be counted amongst those whom you've loved.

You're one of the most remarkable human beings I've met, Harry.  Yours,




Nice try.  I'm still not going to Hogwarts.

I rang Mary to let her know I saw you.  I told her what you've been up to and reassured her that you weren't lying about your final destination, but that you've simply taken the long way around.  I don't know why I bothered, but I didn't want her to hurt any more than necessary.

She told me that your shop is doing really well under Theda's management.  There's been a change in marketing strategy (i.e. they're actually advertising), and so sales have been good.  Mary told me that they miss you and wish you would come home. 

I'm not the only one you've taken for granted.  I have to believe that you at least meant some of what you wrote to me, because I can't let myself believe that you're a big enough bastard to use my feelings for you to manipulate me into sealing your fucking death sentence.  If you did mean it, go home.  Show me you intend to live beyond David's death, instead of becoming just one more name on the list of people I've lost over the years.

I won't hold my breath.



Dear Harry,

I suppose I should thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt.  The ashes don't matter.  It's taken me a year to work out what David's plan must have been, but I can tell you now that the final destination for his remains was merely a means to an end.  The end is you.  I can't say to what purpose, but I suspect it's some sort of posthumous matchmaking attempt.  Ridiculous, given the circumstances, but David was an incurable romantic at heart.  He spent the last months of his life reproaching me for not tending to my relationship with you.  He knew then what I was too blind to see: I need you in my life.  I knew that once and I apologise for forgetting.

I'll go home.  I can't say how long I'll manage to stay there, given that every last inch will remind me of what I've lost.  If it will help you to believe my sincerity, I'll go.

Harry, I've never lied to you.  Honesty is the one thing I've always offered, and perhaps the only thing I've ever given you of worth.




Dear Severus,

Desperate men do desperate things.  I know you wouldn't normally lie to me, but you'll understand when I say the man I saw at the chalet is not the man I've known most of my life.  The Coven has been notified of your impending arrival and hopefully, they have got everything ready for your homecoming.  I know it will be hard for you, but I also know that you're one of the strongest men I've ever met.

Get settled.  Get well. 

Stay in touch.



Chapter Text

31 January 2017

Dear Harry,

I'm back home and settled into the flat that has never seemed so empty.  Susan took the liberty of removing much of David's things, apart from a box of keepsakes that she left for me to sort through. She was highly annoyed with me for having left as I did, and even more so for having kept David's last missive from her.  I could only show her the letter that had accompanied it as proof that David didn’t want the reason behind my trip to be widely known.

It's not intended to be an accusation.  I don't think I ever told you.  In the end, she has forgiven me, and the rest of the Coven followed suit.  They've welcomed me back and have made it their mission to not leave me alone long enough to think.  While I might normally find their efforts irritating, I can't help but feel grateful to them for keeping me busy.

The shop has flourished.  Theda's done a great job and will continue to do a great job as the acting manager.  I have started up my clinic and, with the help of advertising, have far more clients than I can fit into a schedule. 

I checked my post box when I returned and saw the two letters from you, written last year, that I had missed.  I don't know if I told you that, despite my unresponsiveness, I've kept every letter you ever wrote to me.  Well, I believe the one you wrote telling me Ginny was pregnant for the first time met with an unfortunate accident, but all others have been kept under lock and key for years.

I went through and reread the past year's letters in chronological order.  I have surmised that you must have been seeing someone, and that your secret must have been exposed (scandalous photos?).  I'm still unclear about the death threats and the MLE involvement, except that you lost your job over it and gave up dating.  If you were to give up dating it would be to save someone else.  Your family perhaps?  Or the person you were involved with was threatened?

While I admit that I still experience sharp pangs of jealousy any time I imagine you with another man, I regret losing your confidence.  I care to know what happens in your life, despite all appearances.  I won't force you to relate the details if you still don't want to talk about it, but I promise to try and respond should you wish to vent.




13 February 2017

I've always been too afraid to keep your letters.  I wouldn't want something as silly as sentimentality to be the reason you were exposed.  I appreciate knowing you kept mine.  It doesn't seem like something you would do.  I suppose you can still surprise me.

Your assessment of the vague information I've given you is pretty good.  I was seeing someone (a.k.a the Pharaoh).  It wasn't serious.  Once a month Molly takes the kids, and during those two days, I indulged in the Muggle world.  I was careful, Severus.  I travelled under a Disillusionment charm.  I normally used your spell when I was out with him.  Eventually, the reporters found out about it.  I suspect there was a leak at the transportation department as I can't think how else they'd have been able to track me.  Anyway, they snapped a few photos of the two of us snogging at a party.  The next day it was in the Prophet.

That same day, an owl brought Haytham a 'silly little drawing'.  The Dark Mark.  I got him out of there as soon as I saw it and brought him by Portkey to my house.  I spent the rest of the night explaining everything to him.  He was understandably upset at first, but by the end of the night, he was okay with it.  I'd told him that I planned to oblivate him at the end of it all, and after a long time arguing about it, I gave in and told him that perhaps we could work something else out.  I wiped his memory as he slept, planted a memory of me coming to his flat and ending things, and then sent him home.

There's an Auror posing as a security guard in his club to ensure that nothing comes of the threat.  He said he's doing well, but claims to be going a little crazy as he can't quite get the song 'Ode to Joy' out of his head.  This is what I planted to distract him from contacting me, and after all these months, he's still thinking about me. 

He cared for me, Severus, and I never stopped comparing him to you and seeing all the ways he didn't quite measure up.  This is a man with whom I've spent a grand total of 30 days with, who knew nothing about my life and had no real personal relationship with me at all.  And several months after I apparently leave him for someone else, he still thinks of ringing me up. 

And you don't think of me at all.

I didn't mean this letter to quite go in this direction, but there it is.  The heart of my anger toward you.  I suppose a few letters from you hasn't been quite enough to get over it yet.  You once told me that I ruin you.  Well, you ruin me too.  What's worse, the memory of you continues to ruin me.  At times I wish I could have my memory modified just to make you disappear.

It's desperation talking, Severus.  I don't want you to disappear.  I can't even claim it's your fault.  I think I've got this ideal version of you in my head that was born of a young, foolish man who found himself enlightened by you at exactly the right time.  Since that first time with you, everything I wanted centred around that vision.  The ridiculous part is that I don't even think you measure up anymore.

I suppose it's time to grow up and set my sights lower.  I'm in no hurry to begin the process again, but I imagine my libido will grow harder to ignore with time.

I'm glad you're getting settled.  I hope you're well.



23 February 2017

Dear Harry,

The very idea that someone would idealise me is puzzling.  I suppose if there is a platonic ideal of a bitter, self-centred, snarky, old bastard, I would fit the bill.

I can't speak from a vast experience on the subject, but I suspect it is only natural that you would compare any other male lover to me.  If I'm correct in my thinking, your Pharaoh was only your second lover and there haven't been others.  If this is the case, than to whom else would you compare him?  I imagine the next person you meet will inevitably be compared to your experience with the Pharaoh.  There is always a point of reference.

It took me years to stop trying to measure David against you.  It was unfair to him as, being a Muggle, he couldn't possibly fulfil the ideal I had in my head.  He never quite understood my humour, nor could he share my passions.  Everything good about me hinges on my being a wizard, and for the first few years, I couldn't show him that side of me.  Even after coming clean with him, I could talk at length about potions or magical theory with him, but he could never possibly understand.  Sex was satisfying enough, in the way that sandwiches will satisfy hunger – but there was forever that one little aspect missing.

Despite all that he couldn't be, I loved him.  What's more, he loved me back.  It wasn't perfect, but as an old friend once told me, love is something you have to work at. 

I don't expect that I would be your ideal anything if we'd had the opportunity to explore all the potential that there was between us.  We got cut off at the point where desire and infatuation were just beginning to take hold.  As such, it is not surprising that the longing endured for so many years.  Even at the height of my relationship with David, when I saw you in Britain, I admit I found it difficult not to pull you into my arms, not to kiss you, or to bugger you into the grass.

We have a natural compatibility, Harry.  This makes whatever we had together a lot harder to let go.  Harder, but not impossible.  I have full faith that you'll find someone deserving of you.  It is my sincere desire that the man will be nothing like me, but will fit you in different, no less satisfying ways.

I will loathe him, naturally.  But I will glad to see you finally happy.



1 March 2017

Dear Severus,

Paisley is on his way out.  I am the new Head of the MLE (youngest ever!).  I'm very pleased and extremely gratified by the number of owls I've received from my former colleagues celebrating the news.  My appointment begins just after the Equinox, so I have a few more weeks of freedom before returning to work.

It's going to be strange.  I've not worked since October.  I have to say I'm pleased at the prospect, as I've been getting restless not having anything to do.  The kids are great, but I was never made to stay at home. 

I want to thank you for your last letter.  You were always really good at putting things into perspective, and you came through again.  As usual, you're probably right.  It's not so much you as my lack of experience that is the problem.  It's not so much my lack of experience that's the problem as my fear of being made a fool.  I won't go back to Muggle London for fear of endangering people who will not know enough to be afraid.  I can't bear the thought of dating in the Wizarding world for fear that my exploits will reach Hogwarts and result in the torture of my son.

Woe is me, anyway.

How are you?  I hope you're managing to settle okay, and that David's memory brings you peace instead of sleepless nights.  As much as I resented him, I think he was the best thing to ever happen to you.  It showed you that love is possible.  Even for you.  That lesson was long in coming.





"Hello, Mary," Harry said, grinning at the woman who came around the counter of her shop and engulfed him in a warm, soft embrace.

"I didn't realise you were coming," she said.  Her blue eyes narrowed, causing her soft, aging skin to wrinkle.  "You're here to surprise him," she guessed.

Harry laughed.  "I know how much he enjoys surprises," he said.  It had been Ginny's idea for him to take a long holiday before starting his new post.  To get away and, if it suited him, to indulge himself.  Harry wasn't really up for that sort of holiday, but he'd been thinking a lot of Severus over the past few months.  He'd regained a sort of tentative trust once more.  Severus had made an effort to keep in touch with him, and Harry wanted to ensure the rickety bridge between them was repaired.  "How is he?" he asked.

She nodded.  "He's getting better," she said, her voice filled with sympathy.  "I can't thank you enough for bringing him back to us.  It was a shock to see the state of him, but we've been feeding him and forcing ourselves on him, and I think it's helped."

Harry smiled.  "I'm really glad.  He was in pretty rough shape the last time I saw him.  I admit I worried what would happen when he came back to the flat."

"Oh, he entertained the idea of moving," she admitted.  "We took him apartment hunting, but he said that he wasn't going to live in the characterless, cheap, student apartments that were available.  In the end, he decided he'd rather live with David's ghost than deal with plasterboard."  She gave a loud hoot of a laugh and clapped Harry on the shoulder.

The laugh infected Harry.  He could perfectly imagine the disdainful sneer on the man's face when faced with the prospect of living in a cheap, carpeted, cookie-cutter flat.  His laugh faded to a fond smile.  "Well, I'm glad he's made his peace," he said.

"You've not been by to see him?"

Harry shook his head.  "I was hoping you could help me.  I don't have the number of his shop and I wanted to book an appointment and surprise him," he confessed.

She gave him an uncertain look.  "I'll call Theda and see what we can do.  But to be honest, you might find it difficult to get a spot.  Now that Theda is running the store, Hadrian's clinic is very busy." 

The woman rounded the counter, her printed dress flowing behind her.  She quickly dialled the number while Harry perused the collection of stones. 

"Hi sweetheart," the woman said.  With his memory of the sullen, quiet girl, Harry found it strange that anyone would ever refer to her as sweetheart.  She was, in many ways, a younger, female version of Severus.  He suspected that was the reason the two seemed to work well together.  "Does Hadrian have any time at all this afternoon to see someone? ... I understand that, Theda, but his friend Harry is here and wants to surprise him ... Yes, I know he doesn't like surprises, but I think he might accept this one ... If he fires you, he'll have to answer to me."

"And me," Harry offered.

Mary winked at him.  "And Harry, too.  If anyone can manage Hadrian, it's him ... Probably the end of the day.  I think he'll want the evening free after that.  5:30.  Just tell him it's a personal favour from me.  Um ... no, put the reservation under ... well, just make up some name, dear.  It doesn't matter.  See you tonight.  Love you."  She hung up the phone and grinned at him.  "5:30 work for you?"

It was just past three, so it would give Harry time to kill.  But the advantage was that he'd be Severus' last client.  "Perfect," he said.

"Would you like some coffee?  Or tea?"

"I'd love a cup of tea," Harry said.

The woman took him to a small table on the other side of a wicker partition.  Harry saw several packs of tarot cards that made him think of Sybil Trelawney.  The woman came back and took a seat across from him, handing over a steaming mug.

"Hadrian tells us that you've been promoted," she said, bringing her coffee cup to her lips.

Harry nodded.  "Sort of.  I got in an argument with my boss last October and then quit.  I've just been offered his job.  I start in two weeks," he said.  "I wanted to get over here while I still had the chance."

"You have a very lucky aura about you, darling.  I think you will get anything you want in this life," she told him.

It made for a fine change for a mystic to give him good news, and so Harry greeted the prediction with a smile.  "Thanks.  I hope you're right."

"Hadrian also told us that you're divorced now."

Harry's eyebrows shot up.  "I think Hadrian's getting back at me for being in contact with you while he was gone," he laughed.  "But yeah.  It's been about a year now."

She gave him a sympathetic look and reached across the table to pat his arm.  "It happens to the best of us, dear.  I hardly know anyone who hasn't gone through it.  Theda's father and I divorced when she was around eight.  It was a very unpleasant affair.  He was seeing one of his students; he was a teacher at the university, you see."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Harry said awkwardly.

"Oh, it turned out for the best. I met Dan, and we've been happy ever since.  Dan was much better equipped to deal with Theda, who wasn't a very easy child, what with the Aspergers.  It was very difficult for her when Steve left, but after we got through it, the house was a much more positive place to live in.  Most difficult periods are followed by light."

Harry smiled.  "It's been okay for Ginny and me.  We've remained very close through it all.  We're still living together, actually," he said with a pre-emptive laugh.  He waited for the expected surprise, but was disappointed. 

"That's admirable," she said.  "But it must make it difficult to get back on the horse again, so to speak," she said.

Harry shook his head.  "It's not stopped her," he laughed.  "And she's really not bothered by the idea of me with someone else.  If anything, she's the one pushing me to get back out there," he said truthfully.

"But something's holding you back," Mary said.

Harry looked at her a moment before shrugging.  "It's complicated," he said.

"I know someone else who overused that phrase in regards to love," she said with a small smile.

 The woman couldn't possibly understand why things were so complicated for both him and Severus, and Harry couldn't explain it, so he merely snorted at the comparison.  "I'm not sure it's exactly the same thing, but fair enough," he said.

"It's been wonderful having Hadrian back here," she said, mercifully changing the subject.  "Of course, Theda was a bit concerned that once he was back, she'd be kicked out of the shop, but he's assured her he's not interested in the shop anymore.  He's not even modified their agreement from what it was when he left.  He takes 3% of the earnings and the rest is for Theda to manage."

"I suppose it's not surprising.  I'm not sure he meant to come back, Mary," Harry said.  He wasn't telling her anything she didn't already suspect.  They'd spoken about it while the man had gone missing.  "I think after all the great work she's done, he wouldn't want to take it away from her now."

Mary nodded.  "I think his time here is coming to an end," she said.  "It will be sad to see him go, of course."

Harry frowned.  "Why do you say that?  I thought he was better," he said, concerned now that Severus might disappear again.  Or perhaps he was just mending his relations with Harry to be able to escape with a clear conscience.

"Oh, I don't mean to alarm you, Harry.  I'm not even sure he knows he'll be leaving us yet.  But I have a feeling.  Hadrian has reaped all the good he can from his stay here.  Do you believe in Fate, Harry?"

"Er ..." Harry answered.

Mary gave him a knowing smile and shook her head.  "You Brits are notoriously sceptical," she said fondly.

"I think the jury's out," Harry managed at last.  "I once asked Hadrian if he believed in Fate.  He answered:  Of course not.  But Fate doesn't seem to mind."

Mary let loose a delighted laugh.  "That sounds like him.  He won't thank you for telling me that, you know."

Harry laughed.  "No.  But he's been very sheepish since we fought, so I think I have a bit of leeway," he said with a wicked smile.

"You're adorable," the woman said fondly.  "What I meant to say is this: life goes in cycles.  Each cycle begins with a period of reflection.  That period is defined by the questions we ask ourselves: what do I want?  Am I doing the right thing?  How can I make my life better?  These are universal questions that we all ask ourselves several times in the course of our life.  This period of reflection is followed by a course of action.  Those moments when everything seems to happen at once.  They take us by surprise after the months of non-action that precede them.  The events that occur, often without our help, define the path we inevitably take.  We are guided.  A period of stability will follow in which we adapt to the changes.  Invariably, that stability will lead to a period of difficult change that often seems catastrophic at the time, but that helps us to evolve.  Hadrian is in his period of reflection after th loss of David.  Fate is stirring for him, my dear."

After years of taking divination from an absolute fraud, Harry's reflex was to dismiss whatever the woman said.  It was all too mystical.  He recalled Dumbledore telling him that a person determines his own fate, and he knew no wiser person than Dumbledore.

On the other hand, the woman's description of the cycles of life rang true in his experience.  He could look back on his life and impose the cycles she'd lain out without having to stretch things too much.  It sounded less like mysticism and more like simple truth, and so Harry stored it in his head for later reflection.  "You may be right," he said.  "But I don't know that it means he'll leave.  He likes it here, and you're as close to a family as he's ever had," Harry said.  "I can't imagine him giving that up."

"He's a weary traveller, sweetheart.  And he yearns for home."

Harry snorted.  He couldn't help himself.  "You're wrong," he said with absolute certainty.  "He'll never go home.  Or rather, he's made his home here with you."

Mary gave him a bright smile and finished her cup of coffee.  "Well, how about this?  We won't tell him about our discussion and then, by the end of the year, we'll see which one of us is right."

"Deal," Harry said, grinning.  He finished his cup of tea, which turned out to be Earl Grey and not tea at all, and stood.  "I suppose I'll wander around town for a bit," he said.

"I hope you're staying awhile this time," she answered.

Harry nodded.  "Well, it depends on how he takes my appearance, but I've booked two weeks."

"Then I'm sure we'll see you again," she said with a broad smile and another hug.


Harry wasn't nervous as he approached the shop.  He didn't anticipate that Severus would be too upset to see him.  After the man's initial irritation at having been taken by surprise, Harry thought the man might even be pleased that he'd come.  He felt a stirring of gleeful anticipation for the moment he suddenly dropped the cloaking charm. He couldn't wait to see the man's face.

It certainly made for a change not to have a vague feeling of dread as he opened the door.  Theda looked up from behind the counter and gave him something resembling a smile a recognition.  "Robert Smith," she said to him in greeting.

Harry looked at the girl, dumbfounded.

"That's the name in the book," she said.

"Oh.  Right.  Thanks."

She looked at him expectantly.  Harry had no idea what he was supposed to say.

"Robert Smith," she repeated.

"Got it," Harry said.

The woman gave him an annoyed look and rolled her eyes.  "Never mind," she sighed.  "Just go to the examining room and wait.  He'll be down in a few minutes," she said.  "He's not very happy about this, you know."

"Thank you for setting it up," Harry said, feeling both abashed and befuddled.  He always did when faced with this woman.  She ignored his gratitude, and Harry hurried through the door at the end of the room.  He managed to remember where the examining room was from his tour so long ago.  It didn’t look much different to what it had been.  A clean, white room dominated by a long cushioned table with a hole where the head rest was.  There were a few wooden cabinets in the room, but nothing on the surfaces apart from a vase of white tulips.

Harry perched himself on the table and waited.  And then waited some more.  He began to suspect that Severus was deliberately keeping his patient waiting to punish him for having the gall to book an appointment past five o'clock.  After about twenty minutes, the man came in.  He wore a long, white coat over a pair of dark trousers.  The dark grey collar of his shirt peeked up over the coat.

"Mr Smith," he said, thrusting out his hand.

"Mr Prince," Harry said back, finding it strange to sit and speak with a man he'd known all his life without being recognised.  It was a rare opportunity to study the man from a wholly objective point of view.  He looked better than he had.  Still too thin, but he'd filled out some since Harry had seen him last.  It was clear, at least, that he'd been fed.  He'd had a haircut.  His face was slightly drawn, telling Harry that the man was keeping late nights, but his eyes were clear and shrewd as ever, so Harry didn't suspect the man was self-medicating with booze.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.  When my assistant booked this appointment, she didn't know that I'd had other engagements," he said, looking at Harry in that unfocussed, distracted way people had of talking to him when he was under the charm.

"It's no trouble, Mr Prince.  Thank you so much for seeing me on such short notice."

"What can I do for you, Mr Smith?" the man said curtly.  Harry thought it a wonder the man's business had been as successful as it had been with a bedside manner like this.

"I have this pain in my arse," Harry said with a wry smile that the man totally missed.

Severus nodded.  "Has it just started?"

"No.  It's been off and on for years," he said.

"Have you hurt your back before?  An accident of some sort, perhaps?"

"Years ago.  I took a fall, but I healed all right," he said.

"If you could please stand and remove your shirt, I'll have a look."

Harry did as he was told, recalling his week of convalescence.  The care of Severus' touch.  The gentle urging to move this way and that.  He stood with his fingertips touching the paper-covered grey cushion of the table, his back to the other man.

Severus' fingers walked down his spine, reading his muscles.  Harry wondered if the man would realise he had no pain at all.  "Lean to your right," he commanded in a voice that had only grown deeper over the years.  It rumbled inside Harry, awakening memories long abandoned.

Those fingers prodded and stroked before urging him to lean to the right and then to bend forward.  Hands gripped his hips, while two thumbs met over his tailbone to press firmly.  "You may sit, Mr Smith," the man said at last.

Harry turned and hoisted himself back onto the table, looking up at the man who stared through him.  "There's a bit of stiffness around your right shoulder, probably because of a rucksack or bag you carry, favouring that side. But I've found nothing that might explain your Sciatica.  If you'd like, I can loosen up your shoulder, but if the pain in your arse persists, I would urge you to see a doctor.  Lie face down if you would," Severus told him, turning to open one of the cabinets.  Harry could see a number of bottles of what looked to be oils.  Severus pulled one down.  Harry dropped the spell before Severus turned to greet him.

The man took a step back the moment realisation hit him.  His mouth dropped open, and his grip tightened over the bottle he held.

Harry grinned.  "I think the pain in my arse is incurable," he said soberly.

After a moment of staring dumbly, the man snorted.  "I knew I'd regret teaching you that spell," he said.  A fond smile curled onto his lips.  He set the bottle back on the cabinet and looked at Harry with an indescribable expression.

"I wanted to see you while I still have the chance," Harry said.

"And naturally, you didn't think to tell me you were coming."

Harry laughed.  "And ruin the surprise?"

"I hate surprises," Severus said without any conviction at all.  A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.  His hands tightened along the edge of the cabinet against which he leant.

"I could go," Harry offered.  He pulled his shirt back over his head.  The man was staring at him strangely.  "What?" he said.

Severus shook his head.  "I'm a bloody genius," he declared.

Harry laughed.  "And modest, too.  Is this a general declaration, or is there some reason you're a genius?"

"I know every single inch of your body.  Were I in a dark room with ten different men, I would have no trouble picking you out," he said quietly.  "And for all of that, I didn't recognise you at all.  Not even a tickle of recognition.  It's a bloody good spell," he concluded.

Harry laughed, his cheeks burning ever so slightly at the memory of why, exactly, the man knew his body as well as he did.  "You are a bloody genius," he said.

"I admit I was put out to have an urgent appointment this evening.  I believe I owe Theda an apology," Severus said with a smile.  "I'm glad you're here."

The sincerity of the man's words awakened a sort of panicked urgency in Harry.  Old feelings that he'd tried so hard to abandon came back now in force.  Natural compatibility, Severus had said.  Harry tightened his hold on the side of the table, lest he throw himself in the man's arms.  It would be a bad idea, and that wasn't what he'd come for.

"I had to see how you were getting along," Harry said. 

Severus nodded.  "How long are you staying?"

"Don't know," Harry said, suddenly doubting the wisdom coming at all. 

Severus gave a small smile and shook his head.  "Forward planning," he muttered.  "I'll need to clear some space in my diary for you.  I've been kept ridiculously busy," he said.

"I can keep myself occupied while you work.  It wouldn't be fair of me to expect you to clear your schedule," Harry pointed out.  "I'm an uninvited guest, after all."  He gave a sheepish smile.

"I had forgotten," Severus said with a bland look.  "How foolish of me.  Of course, as you have travelled across the world to bother me, I would be remiss not to afford you that opportunity."  He smirked and then leant back against the cabinet.  "I propose to clear my schedule for two days.  If you decide to leave tomorrow, it only means I get a long weekend."

Harry lowered his eyes and nodded. 

"Where are you staying?" the man asked.

"I've booked into the hotel I was in last time," Harry said.

Severus undid the buttons of his coat and hooked it over his arm.  "Are you hungry?"

Harry smiled.  "Sure."

"Shall I cook?  Or would you prefer to go someplace ... neutral?"  An eyebrow raised above a guarded expression.

Harry frowned at the man.  "Neutral?" he said blandly.

Severus shrugged.  "This is my attempt at being sensitive, Harry.  I'm not very good at it.  I don't know why you've come.  I'm pleased you have, but it's clear to me you're not certain you want to be here."

Harry snorted.  "I'm not afraid to be alone with you, if that's what you're asking.  I've booked into a hotel because, as I recall, you only have one bed.  It would be both incredibly presumptuous and extremely foolish of me to imagine myself in it."

Severus gave him a long look before the corner of his mouth quirked up.  "Pity.  It's been a very long time," he said teasingly.

"Severus," Harry said in a warning tone.  His mouth twitched with the effort of keeping the answering smile at bay.  "Don't start," he said.

Severus gave a long suffering sigh and stepped away from the cabinet.  "I will do my best," he promised.  "Although I must say, it goes against nature."

Harry rolled his eyes and gave into the urge to grin stupidly.  "You're incorrigible," he muttered.  The irony of him calling Severus incorrigible was not lost on him.  It made his grin that much wider.  His conscience sent out a warning that the smile would only encourage the man. It faded accordingly.  Harry took a deep breath to still the ridiculous flurries in his chest.  "Shall we?" he said quietly.


Severus prepared their meal while Harry looked on, leaning on his elbows against the counter, eyes trained on Severus' hands as he prepared the lamb, onions and peppers for the curry.

It had been ages since he'd cooked a meal, having relied heavily on local takeaway and the vigilance of the Coven since returning from his travels.  The year he'd spent on walkabout, he'd eaten only what non-perishable items he could easily carry with him, and occasionally he'd joined the guides and the Sherpas around the fire at night.  David had always been the one to cook when he was well, and when he wasn't, they subsisted on rice and broth.

As he began searing the meat in the pan of frying onions and peppers, Harry's enchantment ended. He broke the studious silence with the story of his new appointment.

"Half the force threatened to quit.  Shacklebolt had warned Paisley that if he didn't stop using the Aurors to garner support for his campaign, he'd be sacked.  He didn't listen," Harry said with a grim smile.  "Shacklebolt offered the position to Gordan Kelly, who would have been a great choice, really, but Gordan didn't want the politics that came with the job.  He said that he'd happily take the post of Captain, provided I be made Commander."


Severus looked up from the pot.  "I imagine it's gratifying to you to have earned that level of loyalty," he said.

"It's amazing," he agreed.  "I remember Kelly was really sceptical when I was made Captain.  He told me I was a good Auror, but that didn't make me a leader.  Over the next few years, I suppose I was able to prove myself to him and the rest of the team who were thinking the same thing, even if they wouldn't actually say it aloud."

Severus spooned curry paste into the pan and listened with a quiet sort of pride at all the man had accomplished.  He never doubted that Harry was good at his job, exactly, but he was among those who dismissed his appointment as the head of the force as something offered purely on the basis of his name.  He was immeasurably pleased to know that Harry had passed that hurdle.  "So, you don't mind the politics that come with the job?" he asked, knowing full well Harry's feelings toward being in the spotlight.

Harry shrugged.  "I'll be good at it," he said.  There was no arrogance in his statement.  He was simply a man who knew his strengths.  "And I can make it more than that.  There's so much we can do to make the department more effective."  He smiled.  "I'm excited to get started."

The mixture hissed angrily as Severus poured in the chopped tomatoes and calmed when he added water.  "And to think, you never even wanted to be an Auror," he teased, remembering the countless letters he'd received from the man who bemoaned his lack of direction.

Harry snorted.  "But who am I to argue with Fate?"

"Who, indeed," Severus intoned with a smirk.  He gave the mix one last stir before popping on the cover and leaving it to stew.

"Mary reckons I have a lucky aura," Harry said with a wry smile.  "That I'll get anything I want in this life."

His tone spoke of ironic amusement.

Severus thought the woman probably wasn't wrong.  "She's been known to get it right every now and again," he remarked.  "When did you see her?"

"I stopped by there when I got in.  She helped me book the appointment," Harry explained.

"The two of you have become quite friendly," Severus remarked.  Harry gave him a look to remind Severus of why, precisely, that was.  "I suppose I should thank you for staying in touch with them," Severus followed awkwardly.

"Yes.  You should," Harry shot back.  After a moment his expression softened.  "But you're back now.  And you're alive.  It's enough to be going on with."

Severus turned away and busied himself with preparing the rice.  He was alive.  It was all he was.  He'd not managed to fully commit himself to remaining so, but he'd put off thinking about taking steps to change it.  His days were long and filled with clients.  More often than not, his evenings were usurped with the Coven members, who took it in turns to see to his sanity.  On those rare occasions he was left alone with his thoughts, he turned to his greenhouses, which were in a sad state after his absence.

It was only at night, when the sleepless hours stretched interminably before him, that Severus' existential struggles haunted him.  He hated himself for it.  For five decades he'd been perfectly content to live a solitary life.  Well, perhaps not perfectly content, but at least he'd managed to reap some joy from the life he'd built here.  Seven mercilessly short years had been enough to destroy a lifetime of independence, and here he was now: broken and alone again.

He had his friends, it was true.  A circle of strong, caring women who had made it their mission to help him recover from this latest in a long line of tragedies.  While he was grateful to them and humbled by the level of devotion they'd shown him, whenever he saw them, he became painfully aware of their mortality.  Severus was cursed to survive them all.  Despite his best efforts, he remained in perfect health.  His hair had not yet begun to grey.  If he looked hard, he could just see fine lines developing around his eyes.  His apparently eternal youth had not gone unnoticed and soon, Severus would no longer be able to pass it off as good genes.  He would have to go.

He had nowhere to go, and no desire to recreate himself again.  He had no desire.

This was his blocking point.  When in the darkest part of the night, he reached for death, it wasn't out of maudlin self-pity.  It wasn't even for loneliness.  While he could admit that he sometimes missed having someone beside him, lulling him to sleep with their steady breath, he'd now re-habituated himself to that absence. 

It was fatigue.  The idea of re-establishing himself somewhere else, meeting new people, finding a new job – not to mention the inevitable hassle of bureaucracy – made Severus grope longingly for the end to it all.  It was the only desire he had left.

"You've gone quiet," Harry said, touching his back with hesitant fingertips.

Severus looked over at the man, taking in the concerned expression.  "I'm cooking," he pointed out, and then shut the water off, leaving the rice to soak.  He pulled a tea towel from its hook and dried his hands.

"Smells nice," Harry said, stepping back to widen the distance between them.

Severus gave a non-committal nod.  "It'll take an hour or so," he said.  "Would you like something to drink?"

The man gave him a wary look that made Severus want to hex him.  "Don't look at me like that.  I've not been drunk since you last saw me.  I'm perfectly capable of temperance, Harry, I was just disinclined to exercise it."


The man gave him an apologetic smile.  "Sorry," he said.  "I can't help but worry about you, Severus.  It's what I do."

"There are far worthier things to worry about, Harry.  How is your family, by the way?"

"They're really great, actually.  James is doing well in school.  Potions is his favourite subject, if you can believe it," Harry said with a broad smile.  "I think it's George's influence.  He idolises his uncle," Harry said with a small shake of his head.  "And Al can't wait to start school.  Neither can Lily, but she's got a couple of years yet."

Severus half-listened as Harry went through the details of his domestic life.  He watched the man as he spoke, taking in the subtle changes.  He didn't look any older, but he'd reached an age now where those types of developments had slowed considerably.  He wore the face that would take him to middle age.  His hair was short at the back and longer at the top.  He'd not quite managed to tame the cowlicks that had defined him in his younger years, but the mess looked slightly more deliberate now.  He'd stayed fit, despite the long months at home.

The differences weren't physical.  They were in the way he'd avert his eyes each time they caught Severus', as though fearful of what they'd find were they to stare too closely.  Although Severus didn't doubt their sincerity, Harry's smiles no longer made it to his eyes.  It was as if some connection had been severed.  When he spoke, he babbled just to fill the silence.

Severus couldn't help but wonder if it was the damage done to their relationship that caused the change, or if it was something bigger.  "So, Ginny is dating," Severus commented when the topic turned in that direction.

"Yeah, it's getting pretty serious, I think.  She says that she's not ready for marriage, but she and Dylan spend every moment they can together.  I'm glad for her," he said with a smile aimed to convince.

"How does he feel about the two of you living together?" Severus asked.

Harry shrugged.  "He seems to be okay with it.  They don't spend time at the flat.  Ginny and I made a deal not to bring people home while the kids are there.  But I suppose if it does get any more serious, I'll probably move out.  I've already started looking for houses outside the city," Harry confessed.  His eyes flickered to Severus and then back to his drink.

He hated it.  The distance and the awkwardness.  Normally after a few hours trying for polite conversation, their banter would begin again, and the years spent apart would melt away into nothing.  Part of the problem was that Severus was decidedly sheepish.  He was well aware of the sorry state in which he'd been found at their last meeting.  He was aware, furthermore, that he could never be sorry enough to make up for his mistreatment of the man.  It kept him from pushing, which in turn kept the two from progressing away from this careful treatment of one another.

"Having your own place will make it easier for you to date as well," Severus pointed out.

Harry's mouth twisted.  He nodded.  "Yeah, I suppose.  It just seems like a lot of hard work, you know?"


Severus knew all too well.  It was his standard line of thinking, but it was never Harry's.  This man valued love above all things.  "But worth the effort, surely," Severus prompted.

Harry snorted, but said nothing more on the subject.  "Anyway, we were going to try and live together until Lily goes to school, but I doubt we'll last that long.  The kids seem to have come to terms with the fact we're not together now, so I'm hoping it won't be too hard for them."

"Children are notoriously resilient," Severus agreed.

"What about you?" Harry asked, exhaling a deep breath.


"How is it to be back here?  Mary said you went looking at flats," the man reported.

Severus scowled at the memory.  "It would appear I have the best flat in town," he said.  "I've become accustomed to the quiet now."  The absence of the incessant clicking of David's keyboard.  The infernal noise of the now dormant television.  The chattering of phonecalls. 

Harry met his eyes now and held them for a moment, looking for the truth behind Severus' statement.  "So, you're all right?"

Severus looked away.  "Do I not look all right?"

"You look infinitely better than the last time I saw you," Harry said.  "But you look tired."

"I've had a few things to sort out," Severus said.  His thoughts, mostly, but it seemed a futile task.  He was alive when he'd intended not to be.  Sometimes, he could recall why that was, but at night, his memory grew hazy.  There was no reason for him to be alive apart from the man watching him now.  He lived for Harry.

Nothing new there.

"Sev," Harry sighed.  "You can talk to me, you know.  I realise that things aren't quite right between us, and I know you're not the type to pour your heart out, but for fuck's sake, I know you.  I know you're not sleeping.  I feel reasonably sure I know why you're not sleeping.  I don't believe for a second that you went from suicidal to all right in the space a few months."

"I wasn't suicidal," Severus growled.  The word irritated him.  It was true he no longer desired to live, but it more pragmatism rather than desperation that drove the thought.  There was simply no reason for him to live.  No real reason.  He was unreasonably clinging to life simply for fear of causing pain to the stupid man in front of him.

"Really.  So, you intended to come back here all along did you?  You didn't intend to get rid of David's ashes and then follow him to the Great Beyond."  The man didn't look at all convinced.


Severus glared a moment and then turned away.  He busied himself with getting the rice going and took the time to stir the curry.  He glanced over to see the man with his head in his hands.  "I'd taken the decision to end my life," Severus conceded.  "I don't expect you to understand, Harry, but it wasn't out of depression over David's death.  I spent a year recovering from his loss.  I've made peace with it.  Yes, it's painful.  But I wasn't going to kill myself to be with him or any other such nonsense."

"You don't think I understand?" the man said with an incredulous smile.  "Do you really think I've never thought about it?"

Severus frowned at the idea that this man, of all men, would contemplate killing himself.  His entire being recoiled from the very notion of Harry's death.  He refused to acknowledge his hypocrisy.

"Don't you remember the state I was in when I found you after the war?"

"Of course I remember," Severus growled.  "And I recall giving you a very sound piece of advice.  You can either live with it or you can't.  In my case, I have proven I can live, Harry.  What I find difficult is coming up with a reason I should.  Something beyond, Harry will hate me if I don't.  Because frankly, that's all I've got."

"I know it's hard for you now, Severus, but god, you have a lot of people who love you.  You managed to find happiness before, you will again."

"How old am I?"

Harry blinked at the apparent change in topic.  "What, fifty-six or so?"

Severus nodded.  "How old do you think Mary is?"

Harry shrugged.  "No idea."

"She's sixty-one.  And she looks every bit like a sixty-year-old Muggle should look.  How long before my apparent agelessness goes from being extremely lucky to freakish?"  He could see that the man understood the dilemma, and prepared himself to argue against it.  "And even if we ignore that, Mary is likely to die within ten years.  She's overweight and has heart problems.  Susan might last a bit longer than that, but I am bound to outlive them all.

"I could move, of course.  Get settled somewhere else and begin again.  Find new friends.  Establish a new shop, find new clients – which will be difficult given that I can't advertise myself too openly.  Of course, I would have to go to the Wizarding officials to get permission to deceive the Muggle officials so that I can pass myself off as a forty-year-old Muggle.  And then I get to come up with a new lie to tell all my new friends.  And perhaps someday I'll meet someone and then get to go through the whole hell of revealing all my dirty truths.  This, Harry, is what I have to look forward to, and frankly, I'm tired.  I've grown weary of the whole affair."

The man gave him a desperate look, and Severus could predict the suggestion to come.  Why didn't he simply go home?  He had no home left. 

"But at least you're not depressed," the man said finally with a half-smile.  Severus' eyes narrowed for a long moment as he waited for something more.  Some sort of impassioned speech about why he should remain alive, despite the mountain of reasons he'd given for not wanting to bother.  But the man glanced over to where the rice sat boiling and said, "Is it nearly finished?  I'm starving."

Severus gave the man a suspicious look, and then stirred the rice again.  "Ten minutes or so," he said, and turned to look through the refrigerator for something to offer the man.  He pulled out a container of fresh olives and set it on the counter.  Harry plucked one up between his forefinger and thumb and popped it into his mouth.  He hummed appreciatively.

"That's it?  You're not going to try and convince me to go back to Britain?"

Harry shook his head.  "You're a clever man, Severus.  I assume you've considered the option and rejected it for one reason or another.  You know that option is open.  You should know that if you decided to do that, I'd be there for you."  He shrugged.  "What else can I say?  I can't give you a reason to live.  Whenever I've considered offing myself, I had two things to stop me:  gratitude toward those who died so that I could live, and the thought of my children growing up without a father.  Those are my reasons.  If the thought of me hating you has stopped you doing it so far, I would encourage you to hold to that reason until another replaces it."

Severus considered the man a long moment.  He considered the purely reasonable tone and the absence of sentiment behind his statement.  It annoyed him to see the man so hardened and jaded.  This wasn't the Harry he knew.  "You've changed," he said.

Harry blinked at the accusation.  A faint flush coloured his cheeks, and his eyes narrowed.  "What doesn't bend, breaks, Severus.  You're not the only one who's tired," he said coldly.  "What do you want from me?"

He wanted the man to be all right.  He wanted to see the warmth back in his expression.  He wanted the man to fill his role of hopeless optimist to Severus' endless pessimism.  He expected Harry to convince him that life was worth the bother of living.  He wanted to understand what caused the defeated countenance.  He wanted to know what happened to kill the man's spirit.  "Is it me?"

"Is what you?" the man spat.

"The change.  Is your apathy targeted or has it become a general attitude?"

"I'm not apathetic," he said irritably.  "I'm just prepared for the worst.  I could sit here and try and convince you to stay alive, but what can I offer as motivation?  All that I have to offer has clearly not been enough to convince you."

"I'm still here," Severus pointed out.

Harry's gaze softened.  He gave a wry smile.  "Thank god," he said.

Severus snorted.  "I'm not sure the gods have much to do with it," he said.  "Shall we eat?"

The two men set the small dining table while the rice finished cooking.  They sat down to eat and spoke of easier subjects.  Severus lamented the state of his greenhouses.  Harry spoke at length about his two youngest children.  Eventually, they managed to carve out a spot in the tension that had descended during their previous discussion and eased their way into the congenial atmosphere of two old acquaintances.

After the dishes were cleared and cleaned, the two retired to the sofa.  The physical distance between them mirrored the persistent figurative chasm that hadn't yet been bridged.  Harry smiled at the large television that was pushed against the wall in front of them.  "I can't imagine you watching telly," he said.

Severus shook his head.  "I've tried, but it just doesn't interest me.  When I first came back, I would sometimes turn it on just for the background noise.  Mostly, David watched it when he had writer's block.  Or he would force me to watch films with him," Severus said, nodding toward the shelves of DVDs on either side of the screen.  "Have you ever seen Star Wars?" he asked.

Harry laughed and shook his head.  "The Dursleys had a telly.  Sometimes when they were out, if I was alone, I watched.  But mostly, I tried to stay away from them.  Is it good?"

"No," Severus said.  "But you might like it.  Good triumphs over evil in the end."

"Doesn't it always?" Harry laughed. 

"I suppose you should know," Severus smirked.

Harry grunted.  "It's a continuous battle.  Neither side will ever win.  Sometimes I wish I could just take a holiday from it all, you know."

"I think perhaps you've chosen the wrong profession," Severus pointed out.  "I, for example, have very little contact with evil." 

"I'm not sure it would matter what profession I'd chosen.  I would still be me.  Evil is what defines me, after all."  Harry said, staring dully ahead.

"Nonsense," Severus said.  "I'll allow that owing to who you are, there will always be people out there who will target you.  But your relationship to evil is not what defines you.  Not to those of us who care," Severus insisted.

Harry nodded.  "I know.  I'm just venting," he said with a dismissive shrug.  "One of these days I'll stop resenting my place in this world.  I should be used to it by now.  And I suppose there are people considerably worse off.  But ... dunno."

"It's not easy being you," Severus finished.

Harry snorted.  "I'm a prat, right?  I mean my life isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination.  Mary was right.  Everything works out for me.  I have no problems."  He glanced over.  "Apart from you," he said with a teasing grin that almost lit up his eyes.

Severus gave a mock glare.  "I would try to persuade you that I'm not your problem, but I don't expect it would do any good."  He reached over to push the man gently on the shoulder.  "Tell me about this Pharaoh of yours," he prompted.

A shadow fell over the man's face.  He frowned at his knees.  "I already told you," he said.  "There's nothing more to say.  It was fun while it lasted, but well ... Evil follows me."

"Did they ever catch the person who sent it?"

Harry shook his head.  "We think it's some sort of loosely organised group, but we're not sure.  The mark appears from time to time at the scene of a crime.  Usually someone has been killed.  It's not regularly.  Once every couple of years or so."

"I'm sorry you felt you had to give him up.  For whatever that's worth," Severus said quite sincerely.  While he hated the idea of Harry with the man, he regretted that the loss had affected Harry so much.  He wondered if that wasn't the real reason behind the radical change. 

Harry shrugged and chewed the skin around his thumb.  "It's old news," he muttered.

Severus gave him an unconvinced look, annoyed that the man thought him so unobservant to buy that rubbish.  "Clearly," he drawled.  "How about we make a deal to stop downplaying the pain, shall we?"

"You're one to talk, Mr I'm-Not-Suicidal-I'm-Weary."

"I did say 'we'," Severus pointed out irritably.

Harry shook his head.  "What's the point?  It sucks to be famous.  It sucks that anyone I take an interest in will necessarily be a target for the nutters of the Wizarding world.  It's crap that I can't make a move without worrying about it hitting the papers, and it's shit that the only man I've ever loved is planning to off himself.  No amount of whinging is going to change that."  Harry said, his voice rising angrily with every word.

Severus watched the man's face contort, watched the colour rise to his cheeks and the spark return to his eyes as he railed against his wretched fate.  "I'm not planning anything," Severus snapped.  "I'm still here, Harry."

The man put his face in his palms and took a calming breath.  "I know.  I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise.  I appreciate that you're angry with me.  It shows you still care, despite it all," Severus said dully.  "I far prefer your anger to your apathy."

"How could you ever think I don't care?  Really?  Have you not paid attention over the past twenty years?" Harry said incredulously.

"I know you care," Severus grumbled.  "I simply meant that I prefer it when you're screaming at me over the sort of 'do what you have to do' attitude that you've shown so far.  It's irritating and not at all what I expect from you."

"What do you expect from me, Sev?  Seriously.  Am I meant to beg?  Would it work?"

The smirk that sprang to Severus' lips was wholly inappropriate, but couldn't be controlled.  "It's a start," he said, and then laughed at the furious look he received for his efforts.

"Bastard," Harry muttered.  "If shagging you would fix you, I'd do it in a second."  His mouth twisted with his effort to keep the smile at bay.

"It's worth a shot," Severus said.

Harry gave him an exasperated look.  "It might help you, but it would only make things worse for me."

"I fail to see how sex could possibly make anything worse," Severus said.  "Not that I'm advocating it," he followed quickly.

Harry laughed.  "No.  You wouldn't do that, would you?"  He heaved a great sigh and slumped against the sofa, looking more comfortable than he had since arriving.  "It occurred to me a while back that for twelve years I'd been wishing things were different.  And now I've got what I wanted, right?  I'm free.  You're free.  But now it's all changed."

Severus glanced over at the man for a long moment, his heart sinking inexplicably.  Never mind that he'd had the same reflection.  Hearing it coming from the man who had believed so wholeheartedly in the possibilities eradicated all the hope Severus wasn't aware he'd been harbouring.  He wondered now when that hope had taken root.

He wanted to argue that nothing had changed fundamentally.  They were still the same people.  There was still the natural chemistry between them if they'd only unleash it.  But everything had changed.  They had changed. Severus, with his heart in tatters.  Harry, with his new-found cynicism toward love.  What a pair they made.

"Do you really think David was trying to bring us together?" Harry asked.

Severus nodded.  "I'm almost sure of it," he said.  "He worried about me being alone.  He knew it was unlikely I'd ever put myself through it all again.  He saw you as the perfect match for me."

Harry glanced over.  "What do you think?"

Severus grunted.  "I think I used to be much better at being alone." 

"It's only a question of habit," Harry said.  "And you know very well that wasn't what I was asking."

"It isn't only a question of habit.  I'd already grown tired of being alone before I started seeing David.  I blame you and your relentless advocacy that love is worth the effort."  Severus sighed and shook his head.  "By the end of the last time we spent at the chalet – the last good time - you were all I wanted.  It was a foolish desire, but irrepressible.  But for geography and circumstance, Harry, you are my perfect match.  I can think of no other person better suited," he admitted.  "That includes David."

It was clear by the stunned expression on the man's face that he never expected a truthful answer.  Or perhaps he didn't expect that answer.  Severus felt strangely better for having given it.  If it did nothing more than reassure the other man that his feelings for Severus over the years were not unrequited, it was worth the effort. 

"God," Harry breathed and covered his face with his hands.  "Why do you have to say stupid things like that?  Why now?" he said angrily.  "For fuck's sake, Severus."

Severus bristled.  "Well, if you didn't want an answer, why the fuck did you ask?"

"I didn't think you'd tell the truth!" Harry shouted.

Severus looked at the man in disbelief.  "I'll take it back if you'd like," he said incredulously.

"You have no idea what you do to me," Harry said, head bowed and index finger tracing his forehead. 

Severus glowered and crossed his arms over his stomach.  It was all going wrong.  He couldn't win.  If he pretended not to care, he was insensitive.  If he told the truth, he was insensitive.  This was precisely why he avoided discussions like this.  The whole situation was ridiculous, and he was ill-equipped to deal with it.  "It's getting late.  I imagine you're tired," he prompted.

Harry laughed.  "Bloody typical," he spat and stood to go.  Severus stared blankly ahead, wounded and resentful, as Harry pulled on his boots and coat.  "Good night, Severus," Harry muttered.

Good night or goodbye? Severus wanted to ask, but couldn't bring the question to the surface.  He stared at the man, who lingered by the door, waiting for him to say something.  But Severus had already said enough, he thought, and so he simply nodded and looked away.  He winced as the door clicked shut and listened to the fading sound of the man's footsteps as he left.

In retrospect, it had been a stupid thing to say.  Not only because of how his admission had affected the other man, but because it was probably not true at all.  How was he to know if Harry was well-suited for him?  The two men had spent a matter of a few weeks in one another's company over the course of their relationship.  While the chemistry between them could not be denied, surely true compatibility is measured by the ability to spend every day with someone and not want to kill them.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, he and Harry would never know if they were truly well-matched.

This was the conclusion that carried Severus to sleep many hours later, after another night spent reflecting until his brain ached from the exercise.  He woke the next morning, slumped in the corner of the sofa.  For the first time in a long time, he did not think of David.

Chapter Text

Harry wasn't leaving.

He knew this even as he lay in his hotel bed, contemplating checking out and running back to his real life. This wasn't real life. As often as he'd dreamt of stealing away with Severus and spending the rest of his days finding new, inventive ways of penetrating the cracks in the man's facade, it wasn't possible. He could accept that now, but couldn't quite say where that left them. Even if Severus managed to persevere past his apathy toward life, he still remained dead for all intents and purposes.

He'd come to mend the bridge. It wasn't the bridge of Dumbledore's making, but the one that Harry and Severus had built up over the years. One constructed of honesty and mutual respect. One that Harry now feared had been held together by the dream that he'd abandoned.

He was Severus' perfect match. The idea might make him laugh if he didn't know with absolute certainty that Severus was his. It didn't mean that there wouldn't be others. It didn't mean that Harry wouldn't find happiness someday with another man. It simply meant that there would always be something that didn't quite fit.

It was life, Harry reminded himself. He couldn't expect perfection, but perfection was damned difficult to forget once one experienced it. The two men fit together. Harry's persistence matched perfectly in that negative space of Severus' vulnerability. Severus prudence lay seamlessly against Harry's impulsiveness. Harry's openness balanced the other man's taciturn ways.

Except Harry was no longer that man. He reasoned that optimism and blind faith were simply unavoidable victims of age and experience. It was only natural after everything he'd been through that his perspective would shift. He wouldn't class himself as a pessimist, but he could no longer accept on faith that anything was possible with enough determination. Or perhaps, he simply no longer had the energy to power the determination required.

He felt unhinged. He couldn't pinpoint the exact cause of the feeling. He supposed it was a culmination of everything that had happened over the last year. His divorce, while not a surprise, and certainly not a bad thing, had left him rather baseless. His affair with Haytham had helped to keep him somewhat grounded in reality, but in retrospect that whole thing was doomed from the start. Losing his job as he did only served to further strip him of all that had defined him in his adulthood. He had his children, but they were now of an age when too much of a father, who only had time on his hands, did little more than hinder their entertainment. And then there was Severus...

He came to America, following Ginny's not too subtle advice to "sort yourself out, Potter." While Severus wasn't to blame for all of his lethargy, the breakdown of their once easy relationship niggled at him. It left him feeling anxious and unseated. He couldn't help his celebrity or the necessary consequences of being who he was, he couldn't change the fact that he was doomed to be alone, but he could mend that bridge.

He didn't know how to mend the bridge. He wasn't entirely convinced the bridge shouldn't be destroyed once and for all. What was its purpose when the other side of the bridge was entertaining thoughts of disappearing? What was the point of a bridge to nowhere?

Pain. Pain and futile longing was all he had to look forward to. He could try and change the man's mind, but what could he offer? Sex holidays a couple of times a year and correspondence until one or the other grew tired of living in suspended animation the other fifty weeks of the year.

Some ghost of his former self whispered that it was something. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't enough, but even a sampling of perfection was better than nothing at all. And it would be good. It would feel right.

Futile longing and pain. He should go. His depression was bound to pass when he returned to work. Even now, a small spark of excitement at the prospect of transforming the MLE worked to sear away some of the gloom. He'd get better, his optimism would return and he would no longer notice the dilapidated bridge marking the path to a faded memory. A memory of perfection.

Harry sighed despondently and covered his face with the neighbouring pillow.

He wasn't going anywhere.


"You're back," Theda said in a bored tone.

Harry offered a smile with little hope it would be returned. "I thought I'd come to see if he was here before looking at the flat," he explained.

She stared at him with an unwavering look of expectation. She combed her fingers through her platinum fringe and tucked it behind an ear. Harry waited for some indication of where the man might be found, but nothing came.

"Is he here?" he asked slowly.

"He's out back in the greenhouses. He's been in there all morning," she informed him. "You must have pissed him off," she offered.

"I'll just go and find him," Harry said awkwardly, averting his eyes to escape her candid gaze.

"It's nice to see him pissed off. Normally he's just despondent," she said.

Harry gave her an uncertain smile and then laughed. "Well, I'm here to help," he said dryly.

Her eyes narrowed as though to see into his soul. It was a ridiculous feeling, but one that Harry couldn't quite shake. He blinked to thwart her efforts. "You should try sleeping with him," she said finally.

Harry's mouth dropped open and his face heated. "Erm..." he said, unsure how to treat the remark. She wore no sign that the remark had been made in jest. Her face was expressionless as ever. Harry gave an awkward laugh and said, "I'll keep that in mind," before darting to the door, eager to escape the whole strange conversation.

"The Cure," she called out.


"Robert Smith. He's the singer of The Cure," she explained impatiently.


She sighed. "It's a British band."

"Okay," Harry said and disappeared quickly out the door. She reminded him of a malevolent version of Luna, in that every exchange left him feeling somewhat disjointed and confused. He made his way out the back. He could see movement in the first of three greenhouses and moved to the open door with a rising sense of trepidation.

Severus knelt amidst rows of potted plants, most of which were dead or dying. "Hey," Harry greeted the man cautiously.

Severus stiffened at the sound of his voice, but didn't look up from his work. "I didn't expect to see you," he said before grabbing hold of a dried stem and yanking up the plant with undue violence.

"Have you ever heard of The Cure?" Harry asked, keen to put off any uncomfortable topics until he had a better idea of how to deal with them.

"A British band from the 80s. I think they're still together," Severus reported. He picked up shears and began pruning a rosemary plant that appeared to be just clinging to life.


"I imagine you'd know them if you heard them," Severus said. "I take it Theda was less than pleased that you didn't get the Robert Smith reference."

"You could say that," Harry said with a small laugh. "She seemed to take it personally. She's a little weird. You should have heard what she just said to me."

Severus ripped up another dead plant and tossed it into a gathering pile. "She's got something called Asperger's Syndrome. It makes her very awkward in social situations," he said, not looking at him.

"Hm. Sounds like someone else I know," Harry said wryly.

Severus grunted. "I make it a point to be tactless. She can't help it," he said.

"Who said I was talking about you?" Harry asked, and then laughed at the half-hearted glare that was cast in his direction. "Need any help?" Harry rolled his eyes when his offer was met with a look of blatant disbelief. "I was pretty good at herbology, you know. And I used to help in my Aunt's garden."

Severus didn't appear too convinced by his credentials, but he handed the shears over to him. "Work the rosemary," he said. "It's more resilient than the others."

Harry's glare bounced off the back of the man's head as Severus turned to tend a more delicate-looking plant Harry didn't recognise. Harry sank to his knees beside the man and began clipping away at the dead, woody stems with a care that would have made Neville proud.

"Theda's refreshing," Severus said in a distracted tone. "She's unsubtle and honest. She also has thick skin, which is a prerequisite for anyone who works with me," he reported. "She possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and their uses. She has my whole repertoire of herbal remedies memorised and can make almost anything I sell in the store. It's a pity she's not a witch. She'd have made a brilliant potions student."

Harry accepted the discourse as an alternative for what neither of them was ready to discuss at the moment. He could hear the affection Severus had for the woman. "That's high praise coming from you," Harry remarked.

"She's a remarkable girl," Severus said plainly.

"She just told me I should sleep with you," Harry reported.

Severus turned, eyes wide. Harry waited for the slow smirk. He waited for the wicked glint to come into the man's eyes. He waited for something resembling normality. It didn't come. Severus snorted and returned to his plant.

Harry began clipping when it was clear that the conversation was over. It was something to distract away from the nervous tension of unresolved issues. As he worked, he wondered at the pointlessness of the exercise. What use was there in ensuring the continued life of plants that would simply perish when their owner either relocated, or relocated in a more permanent, spiritual sense? Against his better judgement, Harry asked.

"It calms me," Severus replied. "And there are stores that need filling. I may not be fully committed in the long-term, but for now, at least, there is work to be done." The man wiped his brow with his sleeve and turned to look at Harry now, fixing him with a hard stare. "Why are you here?" he demanded.

Harry dropped his eyes to the plant in front of him. Amid the dry, brown branches, the dark green of life persevered despite Severus' neglect. Harry raised his eyes and smiled. "I'm helping you tend your garden," he said wryly.

Severus didn't appear amused or convinced by his answer. "Why?"

Why indeed. Because he couldn't do otherwise. Try as he might, he couldn't abandon the man to his fate. He would have, if he could, but somewhere down deep, Harry still believed. He still clung to the hope that Severus would get past this and find something worth living for. Harry shook his head and sighed. "Because there's work to be done, and it's too much to do alone," he offered. "I can't think of anyone better suited to help." He offered a truce in the form of a smile and hoped the man wouldn't press for further details. He didn't have anything better to give.

Severus' eyes went slightly unfocussed. Harry would have given anything to know what was going on behind them. The man blinked several times, gave a terse nod, and then returned to his own work. After a moment, he said, "It's only a metaphor."

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "But it's all I have."

The two men worked quietly after that, each absorbed in his own tasks. After finishing with the rosemary, Severus graduated him to more delicate work – showing him where to clip, how to clip and telling him which clippings should be preserved and which should be discarded. After watching Harry work for a long moment, he returned to his own tasks. He re-potted some plants, replaced or filled pots with fresh soil, set mini-rain showers over others and otherwise tended to the delicate life of his greenhouse. While little remained of the former glory of these houses, there was some hope growing inside.

It was only a metaphor.

Severus declared the job well done and the two men broke for a late lunch. Severus went out for takeaway while Harry got cleaned up. Despite Severus' cynicism, Harry couldn't help but notice that the tentative peace with which they began the morning's efforts had become rooted and grew into a relatively amiable atmosphere. The work had cleared away the tension of the night before, if only temporarily.

Severus returned with paper bags full of Chinese food and then went to his stereo, attaching a rectangular cartridge to it. He fiddled with it a moment before music filled the room. Harry looked up from his unpacking of the cardboard containers. "What's this?"

"Musical education," Severus explained. "The Cure," he clarified. "A few years back I received this from The Coven. Each of them filled it with five albums of their choice. This was one of Theda's," he explained. "I imagine by the end of your stay, she will have made you a CD. Your ignorance will irritate her."

Harry laughed. "I imagine she'd like the Weird Sisters," he commented.

"Undoubtedly," Severus agreed, taking a seat at the table across from Harry. "It's a bit dramatic for my tastes, but largely more tolerable than what most her age listen to."

"How old is she?" Harry asked.

Severus smirked. "About your age," he said.

Harry snorted and watched the man break apart the chopsticks that came with the meal and rub them together. Harry followed suit. He'd never had much luck with the things, nor the patience required to get good at eating with them, but he was determined to give it a try. Severus nimbly pinched a piece of Szechuan chicken and brought it to his mouth without mishap. Harry's attempt didn't go so well. In the face of Severus' amusement at his expense, Harry tossed the stupid things aside in favour of using the plastic fork included in the bag for amateurs like he.

As they ate, Harry listened to the music, immediately understanding Severus' comment about it being too dramatic. There were long musical introductions followed by a voice that seemed to be half-crying the words he sung. Robert Smith, Harry remembered. The text was haunting, sad and desperate. Overall, it was quite a fitting soundtrack to his holiday so far.
He raised his eyes to see the other man watching him listen. He blushed inexplicably.

Severus averted his gaze. "Perhaps the music is a bit much," he said.

"I like it," Harry protested.

"Of course you do."

Harry gave a weak snort of laughter. "It's probably not the best thing if you're feeling suicidal," he reflected.

"There's something to be said for catharsis," Severus commented. "Have you given any thought to how long you'll be here?"

"I'm wavering between five minutes and forever," he said ruefully.

"What I said, last night," Severus began with an uncharacteristic uncertainty. "It wasn't well-thought out," he finished. "I only meant that strictly from a compatibility perspective-"

"Sev," Harry said, face drawing into an irritated expression. "I like it better when you don't think."

Severus dropped his gaze. "Not thinking is your strength," he said pointedly. "I feel I should apologise for misspeaking."

"So, you don't believe we're well-matched," Harry asked, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

Severus huffed in frustration. "From the perspective of compatibility, we are. But we'll never know if that would be enough," he argued. "It's rather pointless discussing it really."

"As pointless as caring for doomed plants," Harry rejoined.

Severus shot him a hard look and then pushed away his food. Harry dropped his fork and banished the mess with a wave of his hand.

Whenever I'm alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again...

"I've heard this one," Harry remarked dully. The music was familiar and the sentiment even more so.

Severus stood and strode over to the stereo.

However far away, I will always love you.

Harry laughed as the music cut out abruptly. "Well, it's not Auld Lang Syne," he said to the man's back. "But it's not far off."

Severus spun around to face him. "Why are you still here?" he said in a voice so cold it made Harry's heart freeze.

He couldn't speak for a moment. The intensity of the man's stare closed off the part of his brain capable of producing language. His response was emotional: desperate anger and indignation filled him. His heart winced in pain. "Do you want me to go?"

The man lowered his eyes to stare at the floor in front of him. A deep frown pulled down his brow. "You're wasting your time," he growled.

Harry laughed bitterly and stood, bracing for a fight. "What would you do in my place, Severus? Would you go? Would you just quietly stand aside while I topped myself?"

"It's a moot point," Severus snapped. "You're not in my place, Harry. You have a life. A family. A future. I'm not part of that future, so why the hell are you bothering?" he shouted.

"Why do you spend so much time healing plants that you're only going to abandon?"

"Enough with the fucking metaphors!"

"It's not a fucking metaphor!" Harry shouted, face going red with anger. "It comes down to the same fucking reason. Love, Severus. Responsibility. Devotion, for fuck's sake!" Harry screamed, longing to punch something. Someone. Him. "Why am I here? Because I can't not be here. Because you might die tomorrow, but you're still here today and I can't let that go." Harry covered his face with his hands, praying for calm. He squeezed his eyes shut forbiddingly against the damning sting.

"Harry," Severus said with quiet exasperation. His boots clicked against the floor as he walked over to put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "You only get in the way," he finished. There was something of a plea in his tone that made Harry want to sick up. Harry stumbled forward as the man brought him into a clumsy embrace. Severus' arms wrapped tightly around him, his nose burrowing into Harry's hair.

Harry unfolded to wrap his arms around Severus' neck. "Good," he whispered.

The tension shattered, leaving behind the startled stillness of the eye of the storm. The chaos of their separate lives swirled around the spot where they stood rooted, chest to chest. They were frozen at the centre of the torrent, a picture of perfect peace.

It was more than a metaphor. The perfection was solid and real. The warmth of the man next to him. The strength in his arms that spoke of life, persistent and persevering. All the cynicism of the past months was sucked into the twister of misery leaving only peace and the feeling that if they could stand together forever, everything else would sort itself out. This was bigger than love. More complete than compatibility. Harry was filled with an overpowering sense of wholeness that couldn't possibly be one-sided. Severus kissed the side of his head and tightened his hold. Harry expelled a deep breath he felt he'd been holding for months. Years perhaps.

The issues were not resolved. The discussion was merely suspended in favour of grasping at the one thing they both had to offer each other. It wasn't a reason to live, Harry knew, but it might serve as a reason to live for now.


Severus could breathe again.

This was strange because, had someone asked him if he was having trouble breathing an hour ago, he'd have informed them that he was perfectly fine, thanks. He'd have been wrong. Air expanded his chest easily. A weight he'd not been aware of had been lifted by a mere embrace.

Severus was bad at sorting out feelings. This, he recognised, was because he was reluctant to admit to having feelings in the first place. He'd known, intellectually, that his rift with Harry bothered him, but he'd not been aware that it had manifested itself physically until he'd held the other man close. He'd once written to Harry that he had healing powers. Now he had cause to remember why he'd wrote those words in the first place.

He was loath to call it love. The word seemed sadly inadequate to describe his feelings toward the other man. He felt certain in some language, from some distant part of the earth, the perfect word must exist. He didn't know it, and so he chose not to define it at all.

As the two men parted, their eyes met. The argument lingered in the air like a faint odour that had lost its power. It no longer came between them. Harry's hands slid down Severus arms and either Severus' hands found Harry's or Harry's found Severus' in some silent need to maintain the connection.

"Two weeks," Harry said suddenly. "I can stay for two weeks."

"It's a bit short of forever," Severus remarked, trying for a wry tone and failing to attain it.

"It's a start," Harry answered quietly.

A start to what? Severus didn't ask. The response led to expectations, to complications and ultimately, misery. Two weeks was two times longer than they had ever spent together before. Two weeks was too long. It would never be long enough. After two weeks, Severus knew, he'd be destroyed again.

"Do you want me to stay?"

"If I say no, will you go?"

Harry blinked, his hand going slack in Severus' grip as the delicate truce between them faltered. "I could try," the man said. "Do you want to say no?"

Severus snorted. "More than anything," he said, renewing his grip on the man's hand. "But I have trouble lying to you." His mouth curved into a small smile.

Harry looked up and grinned spectacularly. His eyes glittered and Severus found himself in love, in awe and terrified all at once. Harry pressed himself into Severus' arms again, holding tightly as he buried his face into the crook of Severus' neck. "This is a really stupid idea," the man muttered.

"But it's never stopped us before," Severus sighed.

They spent the afternoon on the sofa, shoulders pressed together and hands cradling mugs of tea. Harry had insisted Severus turn the music back on and Severus indulged him. The lamenting voice of the singer accompanied their conversation.

Stripped of the division of discontent between them, they re-discovered the candour that had defined them. Harry spoke frankly about his divorce and confessed his irrational jealousy toward his ex-wife's new lover, even as he expressed his happiness on her behalf that she was finally with someone who could enjoy her as fully as she deserved to be enjoyed.

"What about that Quidditch player you dated?" Severus asked, recalling Harry's great coming out charade.

Harry snorted. "Pike. He was a mate of Ginny's boyfriend," he explained. "He was attractive, but a bit full of himself," he said. "A really bad kisser," he added, curling his nose up. "To be fair, I'm not sure he was too keen on me either. We only went out the once. He served his purpose." Harry shrugged and gave a wry smile. "You're a hard act to follow, you know," he said, nudging Severus lightly with his elbow.

Severus gave a smug smile at the compliment. "I'd like to say I'm sorry for you, but," he said.

"But you have trouble lying to me," Harry finished, laughing.

"You seemed to have found something in this Pharaoh of yours," Severus pointed out.

Harry nodded. "I liked him," he said, eyes going troubled again. "To be honest, I can't say how many times I've had to stop myself from ringing him. I eventually erased his number from my phone to avoid the temptation." Harry gave a rueful smile and sighed.

"Far be it from me to encourage you," Severus said, "but it would seem that the danger has been mitigated as much as it can be. There's no reason you can't-"

"I can't," Harry said firmly. "Even if I could be certain nothing would happen to him ..." Harry shook his head and then laughed mirthlessly. "It's funny. I couldn't count the number of times I tried to convince you that you didn't have to be alone. That Wizards and Muggles get together all the time. I never realised how difficult it is. Never being able to be honest with the person you're with. Having to ... lie all the time. I don't know how you did it, Severus. How could you even manage to get close enough to a person to fall in love?"

Severus grunted, unable to take any pleasure in having the man admit he was wrong. "It's slightly easier for me in that I live as a Muggle," he admitted. "I have to keep key parts of my past secret, but there was little I had to hide about my present."

Harry nodded. "I couldn't talk about my job. I couldn't even tell him where I lived. I mean, it's refreshing to be around people who have no idea who I am, but it makes it difficult to explain why I prefer to avoid public places." Harry scrubbed his hands over his face. "Anyway, I think if ever I try again, I'll stick to the Wizarding world."

Severus snorted. "If you ever try again? Are you planning to live the next hundred years of your life in celibacy?" He couldn't help the mocking expression on his face. The idea that Harry would be alone forever was frankly laughable.

Harry glared before laughing lightly. "I know it's not likely. I just wish ..." He sighed and then shook his head. "I wish things were different."

Severus met the man's amused smile with a snort. "It is my sincere hope that someday you'll retire that mantra. I know it isn't easy for you. You're not only a celebrity, you're the target for any dark wizard who has something to prove. I realise you don't wish to put anyone in harm's way – be it physical harm, or psychological harm – but eventually you'll have to decide that you deserve to be happy and then take steps toward that objective."

Harry laughed. "Advice on life from a man ready to give it all up?"

"I've enjoyed happiness. When was the last time you were happy? When was the last time you looked at your life and said, 'I would change nothing'?"

The man went quiet a moment before snorting. "The Mirror of Erised," he mumbled.


"It was at Hogwarts in a room my first year. It reflected what you wanted most. Dumbledore told me that if you were perfectly happy with your life, you would see nothing. He also said that he saw socks. I'm pretty sure he was taking the piss. Did you ever see it?"

Severus shook his head. "I don't think so. What did you see?"

"My parents," he said. "What would you see?"

He didn't have to think hard to come up with the answer. It wasn't an answer he was willing to give. "I couldn't say," he said.

"I ..." His eyes went unfocussed and his face fell. "I suppose it's a stupid question. This has to be the most depressing music ever made," he laughed weakly, changing the subject.

Severus was quite grateful for the subject change. He turned his attention to the song with its slow sombre melody, the choking melancholy. Melodrama, really. It was for those who liked to indulge in their misery. It was for those who wore their misery like a fashion accessory. Those who would never truly know the meaning of the word.

Inspire in me the desire in me to never go home ...

"I'm turning it off," Severus said irritably.

Harry beat him to it, waving his hand to stop the torture. The silence echoed with the sung words and the desires that neither would acknowledge. Harry started laughing, covering his face with his hands. It was a desperate, slightly hysterical sound.

"Something strike you as funny?" Severus asked irritably.

"The music is conspiring against us," Harry said with a sigh.

"All music does is to reflect universal truths. We don't corner the market on desperate longing," he said irritably. "We listen to the words and apply them to our lives. Don't read too much into it."

Harry shook his head and dropped his hands. He laid his head on the back of the sofa and stared up to the ceiling. "We're crap," he sighed.

Severus lifted an eyebrow. "Care to expand on that?"

Harry gave a vague circling gesture with his hand. "All of this. It's just so ridiculous. I'm tired of pretending, Severus. I've never had to pretend with you. That was the whole point."

Severus understood perfectly what the man was talking about, but chose to pretend toward ignorance. It was the safer route, if one bound to failure. "And you're pretending now?"

Harry threw him an irritated look before returning his gaze toward the ceiling. "We both are and you know it. I think if you tried hard, Severus, you could guess what I would see in that stupid mirror. I could try and run away from it, but really what I mean when I say that I wish things were different is what I've always meant when I said it. It's never changed. Not for me."

Harry heaved a heavy sigh and clenched his jaw, waiting for Severus to say something. Severus didn't know what to say. He could hazard a guess as to what the man would see. He imagined his own reflection wouldn't be far off the man's vision. But what was the use in chasing impossible dreams? What was the point in acknowledging them at all?

"I'm sorry," Harry apologised. "You're in mourning and I'm ... I'm too old for this," he said in a defeated tone.

"You're not old," Severus insisted dryly. "And I'm not in mourning."

"I thought we agreed to be honest about our pain," Harry said wryly.

Severus looked over at the man. "I won't pretend it hasn't been difficult. I spent a year coming to terms with David's death. Coming back here forced me to confront the reality of routine without him and that hasn't been easy, but I've adapted as best I can. I think about him. I remember him. Sometimes, I miss him, but I wouldn't call it mourning."

"You're lonely," Harry said.

Severus bristled at the word. It was as bad as suicidal. It suggested a level of self-indulgence to which Severus was simply not comfortable admitting. Not even to himself. "I'm alone. It's not the same thing."

Harry snorted. "You're not alone. You only feel alone. It's the very definition of lonely," he pointed out, much to Severus' dismay. Severus wanted to argue, but couldn't come up with any justifiable reason the man was wrong. He frowned instead. Harry looked over at him with a sideways smile. "You can admit it, you know. I won't think any less of you."

Severus wasn't in the mood to admit anything. "You're projecting," he accused the man. Harry was lonely. Severus was alone. The difference was significant.

"I'm not. I am lonely. I freely admit it. I have great friends. I have a family. I have an entire network of people who would support me no matter what. I am not alone. But I'm lonely. What Ginny and I had wasn't perfect, but at least I had someone to wake up with everyday. Our situation was crap. We had no sex life. But we were in it together. And now ..." He shrugged. "Now she has her life, and I ... I have mine. And it's a lonely life."

He'd hit the nail on the head, so to speak, and it irritated Severus. Either one could accept something or one couldn't. If Severus couldn't handle being alone, he'd do something about it. He would do something about it, were it not for the man sitting next to him, staring at him with eyes that saw everything.

"The nights are hardest," Harry said. "It's been years since I've slept alone. I'm used to it now, but it's still weird not having someone else there, you know."

"At least you can spread out," Severus protested sullenly. Not that he did. He still kept to one side of the bed out of deference to a memory.

"But I don't," Harry said wryly. "I suppose it's hard to break the habit of nearly twenty years." He laughed. "Ginny hated being touched when she was sleeping."

"So do I," Severus said absently.

"Please. I've slept with you, remember? You can pretend to be a solitary sleeper to anyone else, but I know you." Harry nudged Severus with his elbow teasingly.

It was a distant memory, but one that came back as soon as the man spoke. He'd nearly forgotten. "You're an anomaly," he accused the man. It took him a moment to realise what he'd just admitted with the off-handed remark. A rush of heat to his face surprised him further.

"What do you mean?"

"What would you like to do this evening?" he covered. "It's Thursday, so the Coven are meeting tonight. Or we could have a quieter evening, if you prefer."

Harry stared at him curiously. "I've never seen you flustered before," he said with a pleased smile. "It's cute."

Severus gave a very uncute expression. "I've hexed people for less," he said.

"You didn't cuddle David?"

"I don't cuddle," Severus insisted.

"You do," Harry laughed. "It's nice."


"Yes, Professor?" He offered over a wide-eyed look of innocence.

Severus's eyes narrowed. "I hate you."

Harry's grin spread. "I hate you, too. With all my heart." His eyes lowered to Severus' mouth. He took a deep breath and looked away. "You think Susan won't mind my being there? I don't want her to feel like I'm ... you know."

"Susan will be very happy to see you," Severus said with absolute certainty. "They all think the world of you. They're convinced that you saved me from the brink of death," Severus said with a scowl.

Harry grunted. "Well, the brink of drunkenness, perhaps. I wouldn't mind seeing them, unless you prefer something quieter?"

Severus thought he'd quite like a reprieve from their conversation. Something lighter and less emotionally wrought would make for a good change. The two men kept spiralling closer to subjects best left undisturbed, and while Severus held no hope that they would remain so for the length of the two weeks, he hoped that he'd have thought of a better way of dealing with it when at last the elephant in the room was named. "They'll be pleased to see us," he answered.


Severus wasn't wrong.

When they entered the Pizzeria, three of the four women loudly expressed their surprise and joy that the two men had joined them. Harry found himself embraced by women he hardly knew, as they greeted him like an old friend. His reluctance to see Susan again, which was entirely based on a sense of guilt born of the knowledge that his feelings toward Severus were not strictly platonic, was unfounded. She squeezed him tightly in her arms with a quiet "I'm so glad to see you again," in his ear.

When everyone was settled, the women had squeezed themselves into the corner booth, leaving Harry and Severus in chairs across from them. Theda sat on the end nearest to Severus. She'd not greeted either of them, but stared at Harry in a way that was becoming familiar. He smiled at her.

"I hear Hadrian put you to work," Mary said with a look of mild reproach aimed at the other man.

"I was happy to help," Harry said.

"He doesn't let anyone in the greenhouses," Theda said. She didn't appear happy that Harry was an exception to that rule.

Harry glanced at Severus who shrugged. "He can hardly do more damage," he said wryly.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Especially with him watching every move I made like a hawk," he said. He offered the man a sideways grin. "It was like being back in school again."

The women laughed. Well, most of them. Theda stared at him. Harry cast a nervous glance her way. Mary put her hand on the woman's shoulder, and Theda turned her gaze to her glass.

"So what are your plans, Harry?" Susan asked with a kind smile.

Harry shook his head. "I haven't really made any. I start a new job in a couple of weeks, and so I thought I'd make the trip while I still could. I've been here twice, but I've never really seen anything," he said with a smile.

"There's a show this weekend. A band called The Residents. I could get you two in if you want," she offered.

"He's never heard The Cure," Theda pointed out suddenly.

"We rectified that this afternoon," Severus reassured her.

"I'd heard them before," Harry added. "I suppose I'm not very good with names. I wouldn't mind seeing the band, if Hadrian wants to go."

"They're good," Theda declared. "I'm going."

That did nothing to promote the idea of going for Harry. Severus gave a small irritated grunt.

"It's not going to kill you to go out," Susan told him. "The man's on vacation. You can't keep him cooped up in your greenhouses for the whole time he's here."

Severus gave an exaggerated sigh. "If he wants to go, we'll go," he said. His tone suggested that he'd not like it.

"We'll go," Harry said with a cheeky smile. "If only to torture him."

"I can think of more interesting ways to be tortured," Severus said with a smirk. Harry joined the women in snorting at the comment. "How's Shannon?" Severus asked Anna, the woman who owned the pizzeria, Harry remembered.

"She'll stop by later," Anna said with a smile. "We're celebrating her last round of chemo," she announced.

"Shannon was diagnosed with breast cancer late last year," Mary provided to Harry.

Harry glanced over at Severus, and then at Anna. "I'm really sorry to hear that," he said quite sincerely. He recalled Severus' fear that he would outlive every one of these women. It made him feel slightly sick to realise he was right.

"She's okay," Anna said. "They caught it early enough. She's annoyed to lose all her hair, but as that's all she lost, we feel very lucky," she told him.

There was a moment of tense silence. Harry didn't think he was the only one remembering David. He slipped his hand over to touch Severus' leg.

"I got an email from Jenny today," Susan announced. "She's my daughter. She's studying at the Sorbonne," she explained.

"How is she?" Anna asked.

The conversation regained momentum again, and the unspeakable remained so. Susan discussed her two children, lamenting that her daughter was bound to turn out like David and disappear around the world for years at a time. She spoke of her son, who'd just begun at the local University and had no clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life.

"What about your children, Harry?" Mary asked, pulling Harry back into the conversation.

His brows went up. "They're well," he said. "The eldest is away at school this year. My second will start next year. There's still a couple of years before my youngest starts."

"Boarding school?" Anna asked.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. It's weird to have them away. I don't remember being so young when I started," he said ruefully.

Susan laughed. "But how lucky are you not to have to live with teenagers?" she grinned. "There were times I would have given anything to get rid of my two. They've only just become human again," she said wryly.

"Do you have any pictures?" Mary asked.

Harry smiled and pulled his wallet from his coat. He cast a quick spell to freeze the photo before handing it over. "This was taken two years ago now," he explained.

"That's your wife?" Mary asked, studying the photo carefully. The other women leant in to get a peek.

"Ginny. My ex-wife."

"They are beautiful. What are their names?" Susan offered.

"James is the eldest. Al and Lily are the other two."

"Albus Severus," Severus provided with a smirk.

Harry kicked him.

"That's an unusual name," Susan said with a small frown. The politely surprised expression on the other two women's face told Harry they didn't think much of it.

"It was Ginny's idea. A family name," he said, suppressing a smug smile at the way the other man stiffened. "James and Lily are named for my parents," he provided.

"I like the name," Theda announced. "James and Lily are boring."

"Theda," Mary reproached.

Theda frowned. "What? I said I like the name," she said defensively.

Harry couldn't help but laugh. "It's all right. It's true that he's probably the only Albus Severus in the world," he admitted. "Although, I think you'd be surprised at just how many Severuses there are in Britain these days."

His Severus gave him a look as though trying to determine if he was telling the truth. Harry would let him keep guessing, but it wasn't exactly a lie. There were two Severuses that Harry knew about at Hogwarts, both older than James and neither in Slytherin.

"It's a wretched name," Severus muttered.

"Hadrian!" the three women reproached in unison.

Harry laughed. "We've had this conversation before," he assured the women. "Hadrian is entitled to his opinion."

Theda offered something resembling a genuine smile to the other man. "Now you're in the shit, too," she said.

Mary shook her head. "At least Theda has an excuse," she said.

"Mary tells me you're still living with your ex," Susan said. "How is that working?"

Harry was impressed by how quickly news travelled among this group. He couldn't imagine why they would bother gossiping about him. "It's really good, actually. We're still close friends; we just weren't ... compatible, I suppose." He didn't know who he was kidding. He felt absolutely certain each of them knew his story. Either through Severus or Mary.

"Because you like cock," Theda offered.

Harry's eyes widened. His mouth dropped open, and he knew with startling clarity that he was blushing spectacularly. The rest of the women and dropped their heads into their hands and shook with silent laughter. Mary looked mortified.

"Theda. That's inappropriate," she said under her breath.

The woman's face drew into a confused expression. "That's what Hadrian said," she said defensively and then looked uncertainly around the table.

Severus barked in laughter and Harry giggled into his hands. "Did he," Harry said, trying to swallow embarrassment and laughter to make the woman feel less humiliated. "Well, I suppose he should know."

The group of women dissolved into hysteria, and Harry couldn't help but join in. He decided he liked Theda and understood why Severus appreciated her so much. She looked around uncertainly and then nodded. "I shouldn't have said that in front of you," she realised out loud.

Harry wiped the tears from his eyes and shook his head. "It's all right. Really."

"I'm not very good at judging these things," she confessed, looking disconsolate.

"Neither is Hadrian," Harry said with an elbow to the man's side. "I'm used to it."

Severus raised his head and sucked in a breath of air as his laughter trailed off.

"Oh, Theda," Anna sighed. "Bless you."

"Are you seeing anyone, Harry?" Susan asked with a grin.

Harry shook his head. "I was for a bit, but it didn't work out," he related.

"Have you told your kids?" Anna asked.

Harry smiled at the memory. "Yeah. They know. Well, we've not actually come out and said I was gay. But they know I-"

"Like cock," Severus supplied, earning another round of laughter. This time Theda joined in.

"God, you're an arse," Harry laughed and shook his head.

Severus smirked at him, his eyes glittering wickedly.

"You should all know that he's entirely to blame. I was perfectly straight before he corrupted me at a young age," Harry declared by way of vengeance.

Severus raised an eyebrow at the blatant lie. "That's not quite how I remember it," he said. Harry grinned.

"How do you remember it?" Anna said, leaning in.

"Exceptionally well," Severus said with a salacious smile. "You are all incorrigible," he said.

It was clearly a well-used phrase to describe the group, and they all laughed. "You can't blame us for trying. It's been a long time since we've had anything gossip-worthy," Susan said. "We have to recycle old mysteries," she said laughing.

"And you're smiling, my dear. Which is a wonderful thing to see," Mary pointed out. Harry couldn't help but agree.

"And Harry's here. It's easier to get information out of him," Anna piped in.

"Hello, ladies." Harry turned at the sound of the low, gravelly voice and momentarily froze in shock at the sight of the woman who walked up. "Hadrian and, well, hello," she said, surprised to see Harry there.

Shannon, Harry recalled. But she looked nothing like the solid, formidable woman from his memory. She looked as if all the life had been sucked out of her, leaving behind flesh and bones. Her deep chocolate skin had gone ashen with illness, and looked paler still for the brightly coloured scarf wound around her head. Her eyes looked too large in her face without the fleshy cheeks to relieve them. The wide, bright red smile was replaced by withered, dry lips.

Severus rose to kiss the small, frail woman on her hollow cheek. Harry shook her bony hand and tried not to think of death. She offered him a sympathetic smile. "Don't worry, honey. It's not as bad as it looks," she reassured him before sliding into the booth beside Anna.

Severus and Harry settled back into their chairs. "I hear congratulations are in order," Severus said with a weak smile and a haunted look.

Shannon gave a nod in acknowledgment and breathed, "Thank god." The women raised their glasses and she toasted the occasion with a glass of ice-water. "My lord, don't you Brits ever age?" she said, giving Harry a speculative look. "What are you now, twenty-one?"

"And a half," Severus joked. Harry snorted, and the rest of the table laughed at the teasing.

"Harry was just telling us the story of how Hadrian turned him gay," Anna confided, wrapping an arm around the other woman and pulling her close.

"I wasn't," Harry protested. "I wouldn't dare," he added, eyes darting toward Severus, who gave him a half-hearted glare.

"You can't turn anyone gay," Theda informed them. "It's something you're born with."

Severus smirked. "Thank you, Theda," he said. "It is my point exactly."

Harry laughed. "All right. But let's say, under his tutelage I got in touch with my gay side," Harry teased.

Anna nodded. "If anyone could turn someone, Hadrian could," she said in support. Shannon gave a wheezy laugh.

"Nonsense," Severus said primly. "For the record, he made the first move."

"After a week of torture," Harry added.

"Torture? Of healing. He'd had a fall, and I sorted his back for him. It was all strictly professional. Apart from his reaction on my table," he said with a wry smile.

"A natural reaction," Harry reminded him.

"For a gay man," Severus countered.

The women listened to the exchange with greedy expressions. Their mouths twisted into smiles. "It was his fault. I wouldn't have even thought of him in that capacity were it not for..." Harry caught himself and met Severus' eyes. "Your fault," he challenged.

"Not for what?" Mary asked.

Severus sighed and shook his head. "Before leaving to travel, I'd given Harry some books. There was a letter in there from an old friend that was not quite ... appropriate," he finished.

Harry was impressed by the quick thinking. "Half a letter," he followed. "That cut off just before it got interesting. I was traumatised."

"Intrigued," Severus corrected.

"Your fault."

"We're all intrigued," Shannon offered.

"He made the first move," Severus repeated in his defence. "After a week of shameless flirtation."

"You're the one who suggested it," Harry pointed out.

"It was not a suggestion," Severus argued. "I merely pointed out that if you were going to try and keep the women of the club at bay by pretending you were gay on New Year's Eve, there were certain customs you'd have been remiss not to observe."

"The kiss at midnight," Susan offered.

Severus gestured toward her as to prove his point. "Ill-advised," he added.

Harry nodded. "I haven't quite recovered yet," he agreed.

Severus lowered his eyes and shook his head. "It was a lifetime ago."

Yesterday, Harry wanted to say, but didn't. It was a moment he'd relived nearly every year since then, if only briefly. He remembered every detail of that kiss, every time he heard that wretched song. The hesitation. The excitement. The uncertainty of how it would be received.

There was a pregnant silence before Theda urged, "And then?" Judging by the laugh with which the question was met, she spoke for everyone.

"And then Harry got married and bred and went on with his life," Severus summarised, not quite accurately, but Harry wasn't inclined to argue.

Harry shrugged. "And Hadrian went on with his," he pointed out.

"And now fate has circled back, and here you are now," Mary said.

"That was a terrible story," Shannon sighed. "You cut out everything interesting."

Severus' "meddling harpies" could be heard just under the laughter.

"I wouldn't like to be thrown out before the end of my holiday," Harry said with a grin.

Severus snorted. "Please," he scoffed. "Do not be fooled by the blushing innocent routine, ladies," Severus said, giving Harry a lascivious look that made his breath hitch. "Harry wouldn't want you to know just how depraved he really is."

Harry laughed loudly and covered his eyes with his hand. "I didn't hear any complaints from you," he remarked. "And I'd say we were well-matched."

Their eyes met, and the intensity between them shut out the good-natured laughter at their banter. Harry knew with absolute certainty that Severus recalled every single second spent in the hours that followed their first kiss. Harry smiled meaningfully. Severus' eyes slid shut, a faint flush colouring his cheeks.

"Is it hot in here, or is it just them?" Shannon said, fanning herself.

Harry looked away from the man and took a long drink from his wine glass. He glanced up at Susan who stared at the two men with a sad smile. "It was a long time ago," Harry mumbled guiltily.

"A lifetime ago," Severus agreed.

No one was convinced, but they thought better of pressing the issue. The conversation turned to Shannon and her treatment. The chemo seemed to be effective, but she would be on some horrible medicine for the foreseeable future. Severus grew quiet in the conversation that followed, his eyes trained on his glass.

Harry's eyes cast around the table at the women surrounding him. Severus' peers, but the age that marked them left Severus untouched. His skin was still taut and all but unlined. His hair dark and shiny, still. Harry began to realise just how difficult it was to live in the Muggle world. Despite his near sixty years, Severus looked closer in age to Harry than to the women at the table. He tried to think of other mixed couples he knew and began to realise that he knew very few. In those couples he met where one member was a Muggle, the couple resided in the Wizarding world.

Understanding Severus' dilemma only served to make him feel more hopeless. Severus was right. He'd not be able to stay here much longer. Already the comments on how ageless the two of them seemed were tinged with a sort of suspicion. It wasn't natural that someone with Severus' age should be unmarked by the years. It wasn't normal that a man nearing forty, as Harry was, still looked like a man at the beginning of adulthood. By the time Severus began to show signs of aging, these women would be long gone.

Harry thought of Molly and Arthur, who looked much the same as they did when he was a kid. He thought of Minerva McGonagall, who only now had streaks of grey hair within her severe, tight knot of hair. She was eighty years old or so and, by all evidence, would live well into her next century.

Harry unconsciously slid his hand over to sit at the man's back. He was rewarded with an inquisitive gaze, and he had no answer to give. He pulled back his hand and tried to focus his attention back to the conversation.

As the night wore on, Harry quickly became tired. He was still on British time and no longer accustomed to late nights. The wine wasn't helping. Severus came to the rescue, announcing that he would escort Harry back to his hotel before the man fell asleep on the table.

Susan promised to send over the tickets to the show on Saturday and offered to spend some time with Harry the next week when Severus was working. Mary made him promise to drop into the store for a chat, and Anna told Severus to bring him by for lunch. Shannon shook his hand and promised to be livelier the next time they met.

"I'll probably see you tomorrow," he told Theda, and she nodded and shoved out her hand for him to shake. It was clearly something she had to force herself to do, and Harry tried to make the contact as brief as possible before following Severus outside.

"That was a good night," Harry commented as they went out into the brisk air, which helped to clear his head of the fog that was descending.

"It was. Shall I walk you to your hotel?"

The question was bigger than the simple phrasing would suggest, and Harry didn't know how to respond. He knew how he wanted to respond. He could easily follow the man home, shed away the years of separation and rediscover everything that was perfect about the two of them. Nearly every single part of him was rallying for this path of action. Nearly. But he was an adult now and had developed some level of impulse control in his forty years and had learnt to weigh consequences of his actions. Ill-advised, his conscience suggested. And he knew it was true.

"I can make it," he answered, opting for answering the question without the subtext. If Severus was disappointed, he didn't let it show. Harry released a held breath.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then," Severus said, clapping him on the shoulder before turning his collar up.

"See you."



"Good morning," Severus greeted Theda as he returned from his morning trip to the local coffee shop.

"Morning," she mumbled back as she went around the store straightening bottles and arranging sachets of dried herbs. "Where's Harry?" she asked.

"I assume he's at his hotel," Severus answered curtly.

"We can use some more of the women's blend," she told him. "Why isn't he staying with you?"

Severus turned to look at the girl, who was usually one of the few in the Coven who didn't press him on personal issues. The newfound interest was surprising. "He doesn't want to sleep with me," he answered plainly.

She rolled her eyes and snorted incredulously. "Hadrian, I'm not the most observant of the group, but even I can see that's not true," she said blandly.

Severus snorted with laughter. "You're observant in more interesting ways," he told her. It was true. She had difficulty reading people's emotions or intentions, but had a keen eye for details that would completely escape others. It made discussions with her interesting. "How are you doing for essential oils?" he asked, pointedly distracting her from her curiosity.

"We've got enough to last awhile. Why won't you let me in the greenhouses?" she asked.

It had been a long-standing rule for as long as they'd worked together that the greenhouses were off limits. The larger part of the explanation came from the fact that there were plants in there that Muggles weren't allowed to see. Plants that could have devastating effects were a person to approach them in the wrong way. Another explanation was that Severus had always used her to cover the shop while he tended them. It was true that with his impending departure from this place, he would need to either train her on how to care for the innocuous plants, or find a source for the herbs. He'd have to rid the greenhouse of the plants with magical properties, but they would die in his absence anyway.

Unfortunately, so would the efficacy of many of the remedies he sold.

"Do you want to learn?" he asked her.

Her eyes shone with enthusiasm. She favoured him with a rare smile. "Yes."

"We'll need to start earlier in the mornings and maybe work later in the evenings," he warned, knowing full well that she would be more than willing to put in the time.

"I don't mind," she said, predictably.

Severus smiled. "All right. Just let me get them cleaned up. We'll start once Harry goes," he said.

She nodded. "Can I have your apartment when you leave?" she asked.

Severus blinked. "When I leave?"

"You're planning to leave, right?"

Severus frowned at the woman. He tilted his head to the side. "Why would I leave?"

She looked equally confused. "Mom says you're going to move back to Britain," she said.

"I have no intention of going back to Britain," Severus answered firmly.

"Doesn't Harry live in Britain?"

Severus took a deep breath. "Yes," he said. "But I will not be going back there. I don't know why your mother imagines I would," he added.

"It's in the cards," she answered with a shrug.

Severus grunted. The cards, indeed. It explained why Mary hadn't approached the question with him. She knew very well what he thought of her cards. "The cards are wrong."

"So you're not leaving?"

"I have no plans," Severus answered evasively, turning at the sound of the bell announcing a customer. Harry walked in looking freshly showered and more awake than when Severus last saw him.

"Hey," he greeted.

"Why don't you want to sleep with Hadrian?" Theda asked pointedly in greeting.

Harry's eyes widened with surprise. "Er..." He looked toward Severus for help, but Severus' head was bent, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to decide whether he should laugh or cry. "Good morning," he said with a puzzled grin.

"I thought we'd take a trip to Denver today," Severus announced. "If you're up to it," he amended, trying to redirect the flow of conversation. Theda could be irritatingly tenacious when she latched onto some bit of curiosity, and Severus didn't welcome the inquisition he could see brewing behind her clear blue eyes.

"How are you getting there?" Theda asked.

Severus looked at her. "You're terribly curious this morning," he said, effectively halting the flow of her questions. She shrugged and went back to straightening the displays.

"Great," Harry replied.

Severus led the man out the back entrance, meaning to apparate them both from the courtyard.

"Why don't I want to sleep with you?" Harry asked, amused.

Severus sighed. "She asked why you were staying in a hotel. I answered," he said wearily.

"Ah," Harry said.

"We'll apparate from here," Severus said, stepping close to Harry and holding out his arm.

"You're wrong, you know," Harry said, his arm weaving under Severus' own, his hand curling lightly around Severus'.

Severus looked over at the man. He shrugged. "Ready?"

Harry nodded.

In a moment, they found themselves in a blind alley in the city centre. Harry released his arm and followed him out into the bustling streets. "I'm sure there are several reasons you chose to stay in a hotel, Harry," Severus said. "But fundamentally it comes down to that. And that's perfectly fine. I'm suitably impressed by your newfound will power." He was impressed. Slightly disappointed, perhaps, but he understood the man's reluctance. Given their history and the mess of feelings between them, it was best not to throw sex into the mix. "You're using the spell?"

"Yeah," he said. "How did you sleep?" he asked.

Severus shrugged. "As well as I ever do," he answered. Not well at all. He'd spent the entire evening revising his understanding of the man walking beside him. The man he knew would have found some pretext for accepting Severus' veiled invitation the night before. The man he knew would have thrown caution to the wind and dived into the renewal of their affair with reckless abandon.

This was a more cautious and reserved Harry. An adult Harry who had finally lost the incomprehensible naiveté that had defined him. The indomitable optimism that had exasperated Severus so many times was no longer there. Harry no longer believed he could save the world. He no longer believed he could save Severus, and so was taking care to protect himself from any foreseeable loss.

Severus understood, but he didn't like it. What's more, he didn't know how to approach this Harry. His was always the side of reason, and now, his role was redundant.

"Are you angry with me?" Harry asked, stopping him with a hand to the shoulder.

Severus frowned. "Why would I be angry with you? Have you had breakfast?"

"I wasn't hungry. And I don't know. Because I'm staying in a hotel?"

"There's a diner. You've not lived until you've ordered breakfast in America," Severus said with a teasing smile.

Harry gave him an uncertain look, but nodded. "Something tells me this is going to be painful," he said ominously.

"Befuddling," Severus admitted. "I'm not cross over you sleeping in a hotel. I understand your reluctance, Harry, but it's difficult to reconcile this new you with my vision of you over the years. I'm also having difficulty with your logic," he admitted, turning into the diner.

"My logic for not sleeping with you?"

"I'm not advocating it," Severus added quickly. A young woman came up and greeted them with all the brightness of morning. Severus responded with the dour look he always reserved for restaurant hostesses. "Two," he answered.

Her smile was unwavering as she led them to a table amidst the busy morning rush. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Coffee," Severus answered.

"Coffee," Harry echoed and shrugged at Severus' questioning gaze. "When in Rome," he offered. "The tea is undrinkable here."

Severus grunted sympathetically and put aside the menu he'd been given. He always had the same thing when he went for breakfast and didn't bother changing it out of reluctance to go through the barrage of questions that accompanied an order.

"If I sleep with you it starts all over again," Harry said, meeting his eyes before redirecting his to the menu. He chose quickly and set it aside.


"It," Harry confirmed.

"And being here will not begin it all over again?" Severus asked.

"To be honest, I'm having trouble with my logic, too," the man laughed, looking up to greet the waitress.

"Hi there!" a new, hyper-cheerful, blond girl greeted. Her lips were coloured bright pink to match her bright pink personality. Her eyes took an unfocussed look of one greeting someone under the cloaking spell. "Are you two ready to order?"

"I'll take the ... er... number two," Harry said, pointing to the menu.

"How would you like your eggs?"

Harry blinked and looked at Severus for help. "Cooked?"

And so it began. Severus took an insane amount of pleasure watching the man grow increasingly overwhelmed by the number of options available. Every choice led to more choices, and when finally the man found himself on the other side of labyrinth, the girl turned her smile on Severus.

"Denver omelette with wheat toast," he said simply.

The girl took their menus and bounced away.

"Bloody hell," Harry breathed. "That was..."

"Indeed," Severus agreed.

"I have no idea what I just ordered," he admitted with a dumbfounded expression. He looked down to empty two small containers of half and half into his coffee before tasting it. He added a packet of sugar and stirred.

"How did you sleep?" Severus asked.

The man shrugged in response. "I passed out almost immediately and then woke up again at four. I couldn't get back to sleep," he said. "I almost apparated to yours to see if you were up."

"You should have done," Severus answered.

"I should have just gone home with you to begin with," Harry sighed.

Severus laughed. "You make it sound like a chore," he pointed out. "You can always try staying with me and not shagging," he pointed out.

Harry gave him a look that spoke volumes of the likelihood of that. "I distinctly recall trying that before. And we had separate rooms. And I had a perfectly good reason not to sleep with you."

Severus smirked. "But you could try," he repeated.

"How long has it been for you?" the man asked.

Severus grunted. "Eighteen months or so," he admitted.

"Blimey," Harry breathed, scrunching up his nose in sympathy.

"I've gone longer," Severus said with a dismissive shrug.

Harry snorted. "Does that make it easier?"

"It isn't something I spend too much time thinking about," Severus said. "Usually," he amended with a meaningful look.

"Natural compatibility," Harry offered.

"Hm. Maybe," he conceded, but felt certain it was bigger than that.

"It wouldn't be enough, you know? Two weeks. I'd go home wanting more; wanting everything you're not willing to give," the man said in a factual tone.

"How is this different from any other time we've been together?" Severus asked.

Harry shrugged. "The first time, I didn't know I was in love with you until it was too late to turn back. And some part of me believed that we could have it all. The second time, I knew there couldn't be more. More wasn't possible, and so I took what I could get. This time, I know I love you. I know that this is all there is, and I know that there could be more, if you were willing. But you're not, and I can no longer be naive enough to hope."

Severus was relieved of having to come up with some response by the waitress, bringing their food. Harry pulled his serviette to his lap and stared down at the plate, which was deceptive in its simplicity of eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. Harry laughed and shook his head. "I expected something bigger, I think."

"Expectations are dangerous things," Severus agreed.

Harry's smile faded as he nodded. "That they are." He picked up his cutlery and stabbed the eggs. "I suspect we'll give in eventually. Probably sooner rather than later. I'm just not looking forward to the aftermath."

"You needn't sound so resigned to it, Harry. I'm certainly not going to force the matter and frankly, I'm not even sure I want to now." It was a blatant lie, but the man's resignation was certainly off-putting.

Harry laughed over a forkful of egg and toast. "My powers of seduction have waned, haven't they?" he said sheepishly. "If it's any consolation, I wanked over you three times yesterday."

The mental image of it sprang to his mind in dazzling colour. Severus took a deep breath. "I should think I'd have remembered if you'd wanked over me," he drawled. "The idea of you wanking doesn't make me feel better," he admitted. "Perhaps if you shared the memory," he smirked.

Harry laughed. "It wasn't particularly memorable," he said. "More like maintenance."

"Three times?"

"Needs must," Harry grinned. "You affect me."

"Sensory memory," Severus grinned.

Harry met his eyes with an amused look, and then turned his attention to his breakfast. "How do you feel about the whole thing?" he asked with a cautious glance across the table.

How, indeed. "I'm of two minds," Severus declared. "I agree with you that sex can only complicate matters, but then you come across as being so terribly pragmatic about the whole thing that I wonder if you'd fall into the same traps again. For my part, my pragmatism has never held up well against you, and the force that is you. The damage was done the moment you showed up in my office. The aftermath, as it were, is inevitable."

"So we may as well get some fun out of it," he followed.

Severus laughed and shrugged.

Harry shook his head, smiling. "It's the conclusion I came to sometime around dawn. I just can't say if it's really logic bringing me there or-"

"Your cock," Severus finished.

"No. That's the problem. If it were simply a matter of physical desire, Sev, we'd have gone up to yours that first day and not resurfaced until I had to go," he said with an edge of irritation to his tone. "It's the compulsion," he sighed.

"Compulsion," Severus repeated.

"How's your omelette?"

Severus stabbed it. "As good as it ever is," he replied. "How are your eggs?"

Harry's face contorted into an impression of the forced cheerfulness of the wait staff. "Sunny-side up!"

Severus laughed. "The American service industry takes some getting used to," Severus commented.

Harry snorted. "Yeah, I saw how you dealt with them. I was impressed she didn't break down crying from your look alone," he teased.

"There must be balance in the world," Severus said.

"How noble of you," Harry drawled, rolling his eyes.

"One might say I feel compelled," Severus said, meeting Harry's eyes. Harry's smile faltered. He returned his gaze to his plate.

"When we fought yesterday," Harry began. He shook his head and started over. "I don't know how to say this without sounding like a right twat," he said, dropping his fork in favour of fingering his scar. "I don't have a lot of experience with this, Severus. But I don't think I need to be with hundreds of men before coming to the conclusion that what you and I have is different. It's rare. For months I've felt ... wrong. Nothing specific, just that everything was slightly ... askew, you know? And yesterday, as soon as you ... as soon as we hugged ... everything seemed to be righted again. I don't know how to explain it. It's probably all in my head anyway, but it scares the hell out of me."

To pretend that he had no idea what the man was on about would be cruel. To admit to feeling the same was unthinkable. "We've been friends for a long time, Harry. It is only natural that the rift between us should make you feel ill-at-ease."

"You wrote to me that I have healing powers once," he said. "What did you mean by that?"

Severus took a sip from his cup and cleared his throat as he struggled for a way to explain the remark that wouldn't leave him feeling vulnerable. "I should think the comment speaks for itself," he grumbled.

"Maybe it's just that we go years without seeing each other and then when we do it all comes back. Maybe? It feels bigger than that, Sev. More important than compatibility. Beyond love. It's just ... Right." Harry turned a pleading gaze to Severus, desperate to know that the feelings were not unrequited. "You're my perfect match," he summarised.

"Can I get you guys anything else?" their waitress, Shanna, chirped.

Severus gave the woman a stony look. "Did I gesture, make eye contact, or in any other way indicate that your presence was required, or indeed, desired?"

The smile faded. "Um..." She turned an uncertain smile on Harry who beamed up at her. "I'll just leave the check here," she said, struggling to bring back the cheer in the face of Severus' sneer. She went away with a little less bounce in her step. Severus felt a petty surge of victory.

"Balance restored," Harry said, trying for a reproachful look but not managing to keep his smile at bay.

Severus' expression was still stony when he began to respond. "For a moment, let's say that I might understand this compulsion of yours. For the sake of argument, let's say that I may have experienced similar feelings. What then?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. But it can't hurt to acknowledge it," he said with an irritated expression. After a moment, he tilted his head and looked at Severus with a pensive expression. "Or maybe it can. Do you feel actual, physical pain when you express sentiment?" he said with a cheeky grin. Severus narrowed his eyes at the man, who laughed. "I'm just asking," he said.

"You're going to feel actual, physical pain if you don't stop mocking me," Severus said, his mouth twitching with the effort of maintaining a stern look.

"So, are there different levels to the pain experienced? Like if you tell me you like me: a whipping hex. The Cruciatus for love?"

Severus gave the man a dark look as he subtly drew his wand under the table.

Harry gave a sharp yelp as the whipping hex found its mark, and did a little jump in his chair, drawing the attention of other diners surrounding them. Severus wore a smug look. "I did warn you," he pointed out.

Harry met his gaze. A mischievous glint lit up his eyes. "So you did," he said with a sort of smile that stirred Severus' insides with anticipation of the man's revenge.

It didn't come. Harry's eyes cast downward as he began drawing patterns in the ring of condensation left by his water glass with his index finger. "I don't know what happens next," he admitted. "I can see why you would think it worthless, but it means something to me. It means, for starters, that maybe I'm not just imagining it. That there really is something that connects us." His index finger drew a tight circle beside his coffee cup and Severus imagined he could feel it on his right nipple.

"History connects us, Harry," Severus said. "What more do you need?" He scratched at his chest absently.

Harry nodded. "History. You know, since I was eleven, I don't think there has been one day that went by when I didn't think about you," he admitted. His thumb swept through the circle of water he'd created.

And Severus felt it. His eyes widened and his jaw clenched. Harry looked up, the corner of his mouth quirking into a devious smirk. "What are you doing?" Severus asked, curious about the magic that was being used as it was quite obvious what the effects were.

"We're talking," Harry said. His face was the perfect picture of innocence. "Admittedly, in the beginning, my thoughts were less flattering," he continued. He curled his index finger to meet the wetness of his thumb and rubbed.

Severus' nipple was thus treated. He could feel it going hard under the man's touch. He sat fascinated, perplexed and entirely at the man's mercy. A small shiver raced down his spine.

"But I've always thought of you. And even that first time at the chalet, when we were saying goodbye, and I was sure I wouldn't see you again ... Before everything else ... you know, I had to keep myself from crying? And I didn't even like you then," he laughed lightly and clicked his fingers together, sending a spark of beautiful pain through Severus' chest and straight to his cock.

Severus took a deep breath.

"Did you know, the body is something like 70% water?" Harry said, looking up with an amused expression. "And there's a theory that if you can contain a drop of water, you can become master of the oceans," he added, scraping his nail through the ring of water.

Severus' breath hitched as the man's innocuous movement caused a grating sensation over the sensitive flesh. "Impressive," Severus breathed. "You can stop now."

Harry gathered a drop of the water and led it to his mouth, sucking it off his finger from between a pleased grin.

"More coffee?" a cheerful voice asked.

"I have an incredible urge to fuck you against a wall," Severus said.

"Yes, please," Harry said, turning his gaze to the mortified waitress. She filled their cups with remarkable steadiness, her face glowing with embarrassment. She couldn't get away fast enough. "Which wall?" Harry grinned.

"Pick one," Severus said with an intense stare.

A flush rose to the man's face. He stared down at the ring of water and his grin faded to a wistful smile. "There's another theory that every drop of water aspires to be an ocean. When two drops of water become close enough they can't help but come together," he looked up, his green eyes glittering and full of adoration. "Compulsion. That's what it's like. And I'm never more miserable than when I try and pretend that I am perfectly happy being my own little drop."

Severus' chest tightened uncomfortably. He was torn between wanting to kiss the man and wanting to run away from the expression of sentiment. Sentiment that would lead to loneliness and hopelessness. "You've become terribly metaphorical in your old age, Harry," Severus said quietly.

Harry snorted. "It's a good metaphor," he insisted.

"When did you become an expert on elemental magic?" Severus asked in a low voice.

"I'm hardly an expert," Harry rolled his eyes. I've had time on my hands," Harry shrugged. "I started playing around ... impressing the kids," he grinned.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure that is an appropriate way to entertain children," he commented.

Harry gave him a bland look.

"It's a suitable metaphor," Severus said, leaning back against his chair and fixing the other man with a firm gaze. "But there are plenty of other droplets in the sea," he pointed out.

Harry shook his head in exasperation. "The second time at the chalet, I begged to see you. I didn't understand then what possessed me to do that, but I felt immediately better when you got there. The time after that, the entire first day was miserable. The misery faded when I touched you; when we stopped the charade and came together. Even when you came to Britain with David, Sev... every time. And you're a liar if you pretend you don't feel it. It's not sex. Sex is simply the physical expression of the need to be with you. The need, Severus, because I'd be crazy to fucking want this."

"It's not like we're magically bonded, Harry. The need is nothing more than desire, plain and simple. I agree it goes beyond sex, but I doubt very seriously you'll evaporate without me."

"Yeah? Why did you come back here?" Harry said sharply.

Severus frowned. "I told you why," he said.

"A feeling," Harry said. "You didn't want me angry with you. But why is that important? Once you're dead, it's the end of that, right?"

Severus huffed. "Knowing my luck, I'd have stayed on as a ghost," he grumbled.

Harry smirked. "Is that what stopped you? Fear of becoming a ghost?"

"Gratitude stopped me," Severus growled. "It would be a poor show of gratitude after everything that you've done for me," he tried to reason. Neither man was fully convinced. "I don't know why it's important," he spat. "It just is. It's becoming increasingly less so as this conversation continues."

Harry sighed and rested his chin on his hand. He stared at Severus until Severus could no longer hold that gaze. He was being truthful, if not completely honest, and they both knew it. But this conversation could go nowhere good. It would inevitably end in impossibility.

"We belong together."

And there it was, the conclusion that Severus would never have allowed himself to form. Hearing it spoken made his mind go momentarily blank and his heart clench inexplicably. It was ridiculous given that the entire conversation had been leading in that direction. He shook his head dumbly and lowered his eyes to his coffee cup.

"Don't look so glum, Severus. It's hardly a death sentence," Harry said wryly.

"A matter of perception," he muttered. "Let's go," he sighed. He pulled out his wallet and set thirty dollars on the bill, leaving the waitress he'd abused a hefty tip for her efforts. As the two men made their silent way toward the door, Severus couldn't help but notice the eyes of all the wait staff following them.

As he stepped out onto the busy street, Harry's hand on his shoulder stopped him walking on. He spun around to face the man. "I'm just stating the obvious," Harry said, eyes meeting his own. "Right?" he added quietly.

Severus shut his eyes as Harry's hand slid along his jaw. His heart thundered to communicate all he couldn't bring himself to utter. The obvious. The pad of Harry's thumb smoothed over his lips. Severus opened his eyes. "Where does it leave us?" he said quietly.

Harry's face lit up. The grin stretching across his face seemed to make the day that much brighter, which only made Severus feel the cold of the shadows that much deeper. "Let's not think about that now. It doesn't matter," he said. At Severus' dubious expression, he laughed and amended, "It doesn't matter right now."

Severus stared in wonder at the sudden change to the man. The shadows of the years were shed, leaving behind Harry, as Severus always thought of him. All sunshine and hopefulness. The prudent part of Severus wanted to warn the man that nothing had changed. He'd not rejected the man's statement, but the ultimate conclusion remained the same. Impossible. Despite his better sense, he couldn't bring himself to spoil the moment. He couldn't bear to see the stupid grin on the man's face disappear.

"What?" Harry asked.

I love you, Severus thought. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to see?" he said instead.

A mischievous smile took the place of the elated grin. "There's a wall in your flat that I might like to inspect a bit closer," he said.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Not an hour ago you were bemoaning the inevitability of ... inspecting my walls," he pointed out.

Harry laughed. "That was before you admitted you loved me," he said with a cheeky smile.

"I'm sure I didn't."

"Didn't you? Only I'm sure I heard it," Harry said with a sly grin.

"You should see someone about these voices in your head," Severus advised.

Harry laughed. "You are the voice in my head, Severus. You have been for years. Barring wall sex, I wouldn't mind seeing our side of America. If you were willing to risk it?"

"With the spell in place, I don't suppose there's much of a risk," Severus said. "Have you got some place in mind?"

"Is there something like Diagon Alley around here?" Harry asked.

Severus nodded. "The Inbetween Mall. It's crowded, chaotic and shamelessly American," Severus said, sneering.

"Sounds fantastic," Harry laughed. "The tourism board should hire you on as a tour guide," he teased.

Severus grunted. "Come on, then," he said with a resigned sigh.

Diagon Alley was the reflection of the best of Britain with its narrow streets and privately owned shops. It was old and traditional. When one stepped through the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron, one immediately had the sensation of belonging to a culture. A community of people with traditions that spanned the ages. Making the transition from the mess of exhaust fumes, car horns, glass and metal monstrosities and into the relatively quiet and intimate Wizarding world had always made Severus feel a certain measure of pride and gratitude that he had been lucky enough to be part of it.

The only thing that distinguished the Wizarding world from the Muggle world in America was the wares on offer.

It took little more than ten minutes to walk across the downtown area, into the dodgier part of the city where the small corner of the Wizarding world resided. They came to the apparently empty gravel lot that sat across from a graffiti-decorated one story building with boarded-up windows and a sign over the door warning squatters away. Severus led Harry through the door and into an empty space that looked once to have been a restaurant or café of sorts. The two men turned left into a corridor that wandered past an old kitchen and out another door that brought the two men to a terrace, surrounded by a tall wooden fence. Severus tapped his wand against the fence and a gate appeared that led back onto the street.

Severus walked through the gate and into the busy street, filled with shoppers who were indistinguishable from their Muggle counterparts. Severus turned to judge Harry's first impression of their side of America. He watched the man's eyes cast upward, staring at the towering glass and steel structures that surrounded them. His eyes then scanned the stone streets with the occasional decorative spot of greenery and benches for the weary shopper. Shuttle busses made their way along the street, dropping the lazier consumers off at regularly scheduled intervals.

"Bloody hell," Harry said. He looked as though he were deciding if he should be disappointed by the distinct lack of difference between the worlds, or impressed. "It's not Diagon Alley," he said.

Severus snorted. "It is not," he agreed.

"I suppose you don't come here very often," Harry guessed.

"I've been here twice," Severus admitted. "The first time out of curiosity and the second time under duress."

Harry grinned at him. "David?"

Severus grunted.

"Well, we're here now. We may as well have a look around," Harry said, stepping into the stream of people and pulling Severus along with him. They passed the front of the abandoned restaurant that had served as their portal to this world, although now it was a busy café filled with professionals in suits enjoying cappuccinos served in paper cups. A large sign above the traffic of the streets proclaimed "Starstruck Coffee, est. 1963".

Severus allowed Harry's curiosity to guide them as they spent much of the morning popping in and out of the countless stores that lined the avenue. Severus found it depressing that most of the stores to be found were part of nationwide franchises. There was no pride of ownership to be found in this world. The sales clerks were mostly young and clueless, eager to earn a living wage in order to spend their hard-earned cash on the latest must-have rubbish, advertised by skinny models, winking alluringly at the public from giant billboards that hung from every available space. It was a depressing world and made Severus long for the relative subtlety of Wizarding Britain.

They spent an inordinate amount of time in the Lemming Brothers Sports Outlet. Severus watched, amused and exasperated as any reservation Harry might have had regarding the American Wizarding world melted away when confronted with three stories of sporting goods. The giant domed ceiling was swarming with eager customers testing the latest in Quidditch supplies. Harry discovered an unfortunate side effect of the cloaking spell when a misaimed bludger nearly knocked him from the Comet 5000 he'd been persuaded to take for a test run by an enthusiastic sales clerk.

Severus got his own back later in the day, shedding his own misgivings to spend well over an hour exploring the wares of Cauldrons, Etc. After spending far more than he'd intended, Severus and Harry went in search of a relatively quiet lunch. They scanned and rejected several places before Harry stopped suddenly in front of a sign that said, "The English Corner Tea Room". The words English and Tea proved too much of a temptation for him, and he dragged Severus' inside.

The place was quietly humming with the muted conversations of the tea room's occupants. No one paid them any mind as they took a seat in a dimly lit corner. Both men let out sighs of relief to find themselves away from the chaos of consumerism and safely ensconced in a passable replica of home. An older English witch, who introduced herself as Clara, came to take their order. She was clearly English, probably from somewhere up North, but her accent had rounded since coming to America.

Harry might have liked to talk with her, but the cloaking charm that both he and Severus were under kept the woman's attention from fixing on her compatriots. She brought them their sandwiches and a large pot of black tea before shuffling away to tend to her other customers.

Harry raised the mug to his nose and took a deep breath before sipping the scalding liquid. "God, that's nice," he breathed.

Severus fervently agreed after sipping from his own cup. He admittedly hadn't known this place existed. He wondered if the trip through mercenary hell was worth a cup of home. He decided it probably wasn't, all things considered. "So, what do you think?" he asked Harry.

"Erm... it's certainly big. I don't know. It just seems so..."

"Soulless," Severus supplied.

"Muggle," Harry corrected. "Apart from the magic." He chewed his ham sandwich thoughtfully before adding, "It's all so new, you know? In Britain it's as if everything just sort of stopped in the Middle Ages, whereas here it's as though there's no history at all." He shook his head. "I can't imagine there's a lot of tripe about Purebloods and true Wizarding tradition," he added.

"You have the same political debates here as in Britain," Severus argued. "The division between our world and the Muggle world may not be as obvious here, but it's just as jealously guarded."

"I doubt you would have many American Wizards going barmy over a light bulb," Harry said with a grin. "We gave Arthur an old mobile phone for Christmas last year, and I thought he'd wet himself with excitement."

Severus grunted. "I've certainly not spent a lot of time in this world, but I think you're right. It would appear they're slightly more at ease with Muggle technology over here. Although, that might change if you go to the more rural areas."

"Do you ever feel like trying to get back in touch with the Wizarding world?" Harry asked.

It sounded like a loaded question. "I've never been tempted to integrate into this one," he answered carefully.

"It's kind of disappointing really," Harry said. "I remember the first time I went to Diagon Alley. You really got the impression you were entering a whole different world. Here, well there are small differences, but nothing that really pulls you in or makes you want to be a part of it."

Severus nodded. "On the rare occasions my mother brought me with her to London when I was a kid, I was fascinated. I couldn't wait to become part of it all. I made a promise to myself that I would never live with Muggles again once I'd left home," Severus said with a wry smile.

Harry grunted. "Having seen what your dad was like, I totally understand," he said grimly. "But well, you've got on pretty well since then."

Severus nodded. "The experience has been good for me, all things considered. I don't think I ever truly believed my House's line on Muggle-borns, but I admit to having had little love for Muggles."

Harry smiled at him in a way that made Severus feel warm and uncomfortable at the same time. He lowered his eyes. "It's a wonder you didn't feel the same, judging by the monsters you grew up with," he said.

"I don't know as they were monsters," Harry said. "And I had enough contact with other Muggles at primary school to know that not everyone was as unpleasant as my aunt and uncle." He went quiet a moment before saying, "Have I mentioned lately what an amazing man you are?"

Severus gave the man a bland look to cover the flush of embarrassment he felt rising to his face. "Amazing," he scoffed.

"Sev, even ignoring everything you did before the war – going walkabout like you did, establishing yourself in a world you despised, confronting your own prejudices to the point where you've integrated seamlessly with people you once hated ... You've rebuilt your entire identity when you could have just as easily faded away. You're the bravest man I know. I don't know as I'd have the courage to do what you did." Harry grinned. "Amazing."

"I hardly had much of a choice," Severus argued.

"Of course you did. You had the same choice then as you have now," Harry pointed out. "It would certainly have been the easier option." Harry met his eyes. "Why didn't you take it?"

Severus recalled having asked himself that same question a number of times in the months following the war and his presumed death. "I don't know. It certainly wasn't bravery," he insisted. "I suppose it was because I'd been taking steps for years to ensure that I survived the war, and survival is a hard habit to break," he said wryly. "I'd brewed a poison that I kept on me, just in case. I won't pretend I didn't consider it. It was always in the corner of my mind as an escape route, but I felt I owed it to myself to see what the world had to offer."

"Well, I'm certainly glad you did," Harry snorted. "I seriously don't know where I'd be now if I'd gone on thinking you were dead."

"Happily married to your childhood sweetheart and ignorant about your more deviant tastes," Severus offered.

Harry shook his head. "I don’t think so. I was a wreck after the war. I wasn't very good company, and I think Ginny would have dropped me eventually. Seeing you, speaking with you ... it helped. I mean, you taught me how to sleep again," Harry said with a sideways smile. "And made me realise what a self-centred prat I'd been. You're very good at that."

While Severus vaguely recalled teaching the man how to empty his mind, he didn't recall being particularly helpful in any other sense. But now that he thought about it, he could remember how despondent the boy had been. Lost, in a word. Having resigned himself to dying for his cause, he didn't know what to do with himself once he realised he'd live on. Severus recalled that he'd been in a similar position when the boy had shown up on his doorstep. "I suppose it demonstrates that Fate doesn't make mistakes," he offered with a smirk.

Harry gave him a long look before saying, "Keep that in mind, would you?"

They finished their tea and walked back into the streets. By then the novelty had worn off, and Harry ducked into an art gallery in search of quiet. The sign and the entry told of a new exhibit by the artist Rebecca Stein, entitled Riddikulus. The two men took a moment to read the biography of the Jewish, Muggle-born witch. The exhibit turned out to be a series of nightmarish models and drawings that morphed into something altogether less frightening.

They passed a model of a Muggle representation of a witch, warts and all, whose cackle developed into a melodic aria. Next was a model of a dragon that was frightfully realistic. The dragon snorted smoke and reared up as Harry and Severus stood in front of it. Just as it looked about to attack, the leathery wings became the diaphanous wings of a fairy. Out of the dragon's mouth came a flood of daisies that disintegrated before reaching the floor. A drawing of a swastika developed into a spinning pinwheel at regular intervals.

"Brilliant," Harry said appreciatively. "What's your boggart?" he asked.

Severus looked over. "It's a rather personal question, isn't it?" he said.

Harry shrugged. "I think mine would be seeing my kids dead," he admitted. "I can't think of anything that frightens me more."

"It's been years since I've encountered one," Severus said. "The last time I was confronted with one, it was Lily," he admitted after a moment. Harry's arm slid around his waist. Severus wondered if now all that would change was the face.

They moved along the exhibit, both of them freezing at the sight of the Dark Mark, ghostly green and floating over the pedestal. In a pop, the skull wore a wig of curly orange hair. A pair of cross eyed glasses appeared over a bright red nose. The snake weaving in and out of the eye sockets spouted forth like a trick can of worms. Severus couldn't help but laugh at the thought of what the Dark Lord might think of what the artist had made of his infamous symbol.

"God, I'd love to buy that," Harry breathed with a grin. Severus had to agree, but at seven-thousand dollars, the price was too dear for petty vengeance. Harry stepped in front of him as the stood watching the mark turn ridiculous over and over again. Severus' arms curled around Harry's waist, as Harry leant back against him. "In a lot of ways, it seems like a lifetime ago," Harry said wistfully. "And in others it's like no time has passed at all, you know?"

Severus grunted. "I suppose somewhere in the world, there's a new Dark Lord in the making," he said quietly.

"Probably," Harry agreed. "I just hope he's someone else's problem this time," he said dryly.

Severus kissed the top of his head. "Says the head of the MLE."

Harry snorted. "What was I thinking?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Have you had enough sightseeing for today?" Severus asked.

"God, yes," Harry sighed.

The two men went out into the street and apparated directly into Severus' garden. "Tea?" Severus asked as they entered the flat. Harry nodded and then followed him to the kitchen area, leaning against the counter as Severus set the tea to steep. He was uncharacteristically quiet, with his eyes staring unfocussed at nothing in particular.

"You all right?" Severus asked.

He smiled and met his eyes. "I can't remember the last time I felt better," he said. "You?"

Severus dropped his eyes to the teapot and picked up a spoon to stir. Truth be told, he'd managed to forget for a few short hours that there was ever a reason not to feel completely at peace. He worried about the implications of it. The aftermath, as Harry had put it. It was only a temporary reprieve after all. Nothing substantial had changed.

"Don't over-think it," Harry suggested. "How about we acknowledge that it feels good and leave it at that, eh?" He laughed lightly. "Come on, Sev. Say it with me," he encouraged. "Today is a good day. Now you."

Severus stared down at the man as Harry stepped close, teasing smile tilted upward. The green eyes were filled with laughter and admiration. Severus was overcome by him. By the life the man radiated and the affection he so freely gave. Love for a man who had done so little to deserve it. Severus laid his palm against Harry's cheek. Harry leant into the touch. "Say it," Harry dared him.

"I love you," Severus said.

Chapter Text

It had been a good day.

The tentative truce the two men had been working hard to maintain had solidified and strengthened. The nature and importance of their relationship had finally been acknowledged, and while the question of 'What Next?' lingered on the horizon, Harry had been content to leave the question for later in favour of wrapping himself in the present and finding his gentle way back to where he belonged.

Belonged, for there was little doubt in his mind. On some level he'd always known it, but for years he'd been skirting around this most obvious of conclusions. What next? Well, time would tell, and fate didn't make mistakes.

It had been a good day. The two men repaired the cracks in their friendship, spending their time on mindless activities that had no other importance than being together. It was healing. It was nice. It was enough.

And then.

"I love you," Severus said.

The words hit Harry like a slap. His head jerked back with the impact, his mouth dropping open in mute disbelief. He'd not heard right. Except that the other man's words still echoed through his stunned brain. He knew them to be true, but he'd never imagined he'd ever hear the words spoken as blatantly as that. The sentiment had been there, hidden like treasure in the rubble of snark and subtlety. He heard it when Severus admitted that he was not indifferent to him. It was whispered in the silence that followed Harry's declaration that the two men belonged together.

Severus appeared just as shocked as Harry for a brief moment, leading Harry to wonder if he'd meant to say it aloud. Severus recovered, averting his gaze and reaching past the other man. "Tea," he said gruffly.

Harry reached up, placing his palms against Severus' face, pulling the man down until their foreheads pressed together. "Sorry. I'm hearing voices again," Harry laughed weakly. He could feel his heart expanding. His head felt light and giddy.

"You should get that checked," Severus muttered, closing his eyes and running his nose down the gentle slope of Harry's. His hand abandoned its quest for tea to slide along Harry's back.

"I wouldn't want them to stop," Harry said, grinning. "They tell me what I want to hear." Severus loved him. It changed little, Harry tried to tell himself. It was merely a simple, unambiguous way of saying what Severus had been telling him for years in his own way. But Harry had grown accustomed to deconstructing Severus' words to get at the heart beneath, and now he couldn't help but wonder what those deceptively simple words meant.

Harry's mouth brushed Severus', and the contact worked like Alohamora to open the Pandora's box of carefully warded emotion. His body trembled with the effort of keeping himself from being lost in the flood. Severus' lips parted, tongue stealing forward to taste Harry's lips, leaving his own taste behind. The flavour transported him to that space outside of time and circumstances, that place where only he and the other man existed in a world of sensual solipsism.

Severus' hands clenched over his jumper. Harry's hands clenched over Severus' hair. His body pressed forward, craving contact and warmth. The two men moaned simultaneously - it was a sound that spoke of surrender and relief. It was the sound that water might make when it bursts free from the dam to flow along its natural path. The kiss stretched on indulgently, greedily. Harry's mouth was filled, and his senses were filled with Severus and all that Severus meant.

Severus pulled out of the kiss with a sharp intake of breath. His arms slid around Harry, holding him tightly, as though it was only Harry that moored him. Harry held the other man in turn, pressing a kiss to his neck. He could feel Severus' heart thudding against his chest. Severus breathed as though he'd come a long way in a short amount of time. Harry rather thought he had.

Harry dragged the tip of his nose up the man's neck. His teeth scraped Severus' earlobe. "Was it very painful?" he said.

Severus pulled his head back, brow creased in confusion. At the sight of Harry's teasing smile, his eyes narrowed. "Agonising," he drawled.

"Cruciatus?" Harry asked softly, teeth scraping his bottom lip, collecting the man's taste from it.

"More debilitating," Severus said, mouth twitching with a repressed smile. "More permanent," he added.

"Can I kiss it better?" Harry asked with a wicked smile. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"It couldn't hurt to try," Severus laughed.

"The tea might go cold," Harry said seriously.

"Sod the tea," Severus answered, tipping his head forward to capture the man's mouth again. Harry grunted in agreement, hands sliding between the two men to undo the buttons of the man's shirt, fingers grazing the pale flesh underneath, inciting a shiver in the other man's body. Harry had the sudden burning need to be naked. To feel the man's skin against his own.

Harry broke out of the kiss and stepped around the man, walking backward toward the bed as he pulled off his t-shirt and jumper, kicked off his shoes and shed his jeans, watching rapt as the man followed his lead. Severus was still too thin. His hip bones jutted out cruelly beneath too tightly stretched flesh. But Harry couldn't think of a more beautiful vision just then. The man's pants were pushed to the floor, and a thick, heavy erection bobbed forward.

Harry swallowed back a greedy groan at the sight. His arse clenched, and his mouth watered in anticipation. He crawled up to kneel on the bed, holding his arms out to welcome the other man whose dark eyes feasted on him, burning with intensity that made Harry shiver. It had been years since he'd dared to indulge in fantasies of this man. Harry had all but written off any hope that the two of them would be together in any physical sense. The last time he'd seen Severus naked, he was too shocked and too distraught by the state of the man to have any real sexual thoughts. Apart from surrendering to the tenacious visions that had plagued him in the wee hours that morning, Harry had actively avoided dwelling on the long list of fantasies that had yet to be fulfilled.

They came back now. He wouldn't have ever considered himself a size queen, but at the sight of the massive cock, he found himself breathless with anticipation of the pain, of the feeling of being filled to bursting. In the time it took Severus to walk to the bed and climb up to meet him, Harry's mind was alive with memories of the man's talent for making him incoherent with pleasure.

With Ginny in Polyjuice form, sex had been adventurous and fun. It was the thrill of discovery that had defined their short lived affairs. With Haytham, sex had been good. Simple and uncomplicated. It was about coming.

What he and Severus had went beyond sex. It was torture. It was pushing one another to the limits of sanity. They blurred the lines between pain and pleasure, love and loathing. The extremes that had always defined them circled around and blended together until reality itself distorted.

Severus was a hard act to follow.

Today, the man appeared uncharacteristically cautious as he knelt beside Harry, long fingers stretching to follow the contours of Harry's chest, tripping down Harry's rib cage. His eyes followed the progress of his hands. His expression was blank and unfathomable. It had been years since the man had been with anyone other than David, Harry realised. He wondered if the man wasn't feeling a little strange now.

Harry captured the man's hand and led it to his lips. "Lie down," he ordered.

Severus' mouth curled into a smirk at the order, but he obeyed, stretching on top of the blankets. Harry moved to cover him, closing his eyes to relish in the feeling of the man's body under his own. He lifted his hips to carefully align his cock against Severus' own erection. He planted his elbows on either side of the man's head and looked down. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Severus nodded. His hands smoothed down the length of Harry's back before lightly brushing his arse. "It's been a long time."

"Is it too much?" Harry asked warily. "Too quick?"

Severus gave him an incredulous look before bursting with laughter. "You're not proposing to stop," he said.

Harry glared. "I'm trying to be sensitive," he chastised, legs widening to straddle the other man's hips as he curled upward. Severus' fingers brushed over the tip of his erection, and Harry hissed at the contact.

"Very sensitive," Severus noted.

Harry chuckled. His hands smoothed over the man's chest, fingers lingering over his nipples. Pinching gently to watch the nubs harden. "Very," he agreed.

Severus' hand wrapped around him and stroked slowly. "Tell me what you were thinking about when you came this morning."

Harry took a quick breath and let it out, canting his hips forward to pin the other man beneath his arse. "Your cock," he breathed. "In my mouth, in my throat, choking me." Severus' hips flexed upward, declaring their willingness to translate fantasy into reality.

"Turn around," Severus ordered.

Harry moved eagerly to obey, fitting his legs under Severus' shoulders. His nose slid down Severus' cock as he inhaled the man's smell. Severus' hands stroked over his arse. His thumbs slid into Harry's crease to prise the cheeks apart. Harry gasped audibly at the feel of a hot breath clouding over his entrance. He used his chin to urge Severus' cock upright before his tongue swept over the tip to gather the salty flavour of desire.

He moaned at the taste, and at the feel of Severus' tongue swirling over his hole. He retracted the foreskin and slid the thick part of his tongue over the head, wrapping it around expertly and drawing an answering moan from the other man. Severus' hips bucked upward, and Harry let the thick organ enter his mouth, his lips stretching to accommodate it as his hands held the base firmly.

It was difficult to maintain concentration, torn between wanting to buck back against the tongue stabbing and teasing his arse and wanting to swallow the man down. His own cock brushed Severus' chest, adding just a tickle of sensation to the pooling desire. Harry dove down, taking in as much as he could take in the position. Severus rewarded him with fingers pressing inside, stretching him open as the tongue continued to tease him.

It was preparation for what was to come. Severus' hips bucked up eagerly, stabbing at Harry's throat as the fingers stabbed into his arse. Harry cast a quick constriction spell to keep the man from attaining completion. His laugh vibrated over Severus' cock at the small whine of dissent the man gave. Harry tried to refocus his efforts, letting his tongue twist and trace serpentine paths along the length of the man's cock. Severus' own workings thwarted his attempt, and soon Harry abandoned his desire to swallow the man in favour of panting. He stretched out a hand to summon lubricant, not caring from whence it came. He reached back to wrap his hand around Severus' fingers to transfer the slick stuff, before summoning more to smooth it over the considerable length of the man's cock.

His arse was filled with fingers, twisting inside of him to loosen him up. Knuckles brushed over his prostate. Harry shouted out his approval. Severus pushed Harry's arse forward, silently indicating that the preparations had come to an end. Harry scooted forward, straddling the other man, pulling up his cock and sitting back against it. Severus hands rested on his hips as Harry eased himself downward, biting his lip at the feel of his ring straining to take the man in. He momentarily regretted the position, unable to look down at the man as Severus entered him. He decided he couldn't stop now and threw his head back, eyes closed as he willed himself to accept the intrusion. He stroked himself to distract from the pain as Severus rocked as gently as possible up into him.

At last he was seated. His breaths came in long rushes of air that joined in the laboured breathing behind him. Severus sat up, wrapping his arm around Harry's middle and pulling him backward so that Severus sat against the headboard. His forehead pressed between Harry's shoulder blades, breath blasting against his skin. Harry didn't think he'd ever been held quite so tightly before and it was at once bracing and alarming. "Severus?" Harry breathed.

A wet sniff sent a spike of worry through Harry's insides. He tried to twist around to look at the other man but Severus' arms crossed up over his chest, holding him still. Lips pressed against Harry's spine. Harry's hands stroked Severus' arms, fingers weaving between the other man's. After a moment, Severus' hold on him loosened just slightly. His feet found purchase against the bed and he speared upward. Harry's breath escaped him in a loud puff.

Severus' hands slid down to grip Harry's hips, fingers wrapping painfully around Harry's hip bones as the man guided Harry's movements. Harry's concern was tucked away for later reflection as he focussed his mind on the movement inside him, splitting him every time he was pulled downward. As Severus set the pace, Harry rolled his hips in time, finding the sweet spot inside. He didn't touch himself. He didn't have to. Their efforts combined to launch a concerted attack on his prostate, and he could feel the tension building in his balls. Each thrust wrenched a groan from his chest. Severus' tight grunts countered him.

The slow pace began to build. Harry's mind abandoned the idea of stretching out the ecstasy. His hips lifted until the head of Severus' cock just sat against the button inside. He began rocking in small concentrated movements, torturing himself with agonising pleasure that threatened to undo him. A different sort of suicide. Severus' teeth sinking into his shoulder was the end of him. Harry came with a shout, frozen and suspended as his release shot in long arcs in front of him. He had not recovered when he was pushed forward, off Severus' cock. Severus raised himself up behind him, grabbing Harry's hips as he thrust unceremoniously inside and began pounding hard and fast into Harry's arse. At the sound of the man's pained, "fuck," it occurred to Harry to release the man from his torture and a second later Severus slammed inside, crying out as he shot deep inside the other man. Harry collapsed to the bed, Severus falling on top of him, holding on so tightly he trembled with the strain.

After an interminable moment, Severus rolled off Harry, hands covering his face as he caught his breath. Harry rolled to face the man, hand sliding to rest over Severus' pounding heart. "Sev?" he breathed uneasily.

Severus moved one hand to cover Harry's, his other sliding to cover his eyes. Harry cast a cleaning charm and moved closer to the other man, pressing a kiss to his lips before lying beside him. He wished the man would say something, but thought better of pressing the issue. Instead, he lay quietly nestled against the other man. The heat of desire was rapidly fading, and the chill in the room was cooling his skin. The emotional tension in the room left him feeling spent, but not sated. His insides swirled anxiously as he waited for Severus to come back to him.

"Come on," Harry said after a long moment. "I'm getting cold," he said, his tone far lighter than he felt. He knelt up and after a moment, Severus followed him to the head of the bed and under the blankets. Harry summoned the mugs of tea and warmed them quickly before pressing one into Severus' hands. Severus drank without a word and let out a sigh after swallowing. "Is it David?" Harry asked, his nose wrinkling apologetically.

Severus snorted and shook his head. "That would make more sense," he said in a rough voice. Harry felt inexplicably relieved to know that residual grief over David's death wasn't the cause of the man's solemn mood. Inexplicable, because it only left him as the cause of it. "It's nothing, Harry," Severus lied. "Lack of sleep, madness," he waved his arm to indicate the list might go on.

"Is that all?" Harry said dryly. Severus grunted into his mug. "It's been an emotionally charged few days," Harry pointed out. "At least from my side," he amended so as to prevent any argument. "I know I feel a bit wrecked," he admitted. "But hopeful." He gave the man a sideways smile.

"Hopeful," Severus echoed dully. He shook his head. "Harry-"

"Don't," Harry said quickly. "If you say something to ruin it, I'll have to hurt you," he warned with a teasing smile. He was only half joking. "I don't need to hear that nothing's changed. I don't care to hear that we're in an impossible situation or that the only thing that awaits us at the end of these two weeks is despair. I'm not an idiot, Sev. I'm mindful of all the limitations. But today was a good day and that's enough to be going on with."

"Today was a good day," Severus conceded with a small smile.

Harry grinned cheekily and leant over to kiss the man's bare shoulder. "I love you, too."

It was no longer a question as to whether Harry would stay or not. After an insanely pleasurable evening making up for lost time, followed by a relatively peaceful night's sleep, Harry returned to his hotel to retrieve his effects, leaving Severus to wonder at the difference three little words could make.

We belong together.

Logically, Severus dismissed the idea as patently ridiculous. They wanted one another. Their desire was based on chemistry, and their love was founded in a shared history. The strain of holding back, of denying that which came naturally to the pair, created a sort of discord that was appeased when the two finally surrendered. Harry made it sound as though they were bonded on some deeper spiritual level. Soul mates, although he'd wisely refrained from using the words. Everything Severus knew about magic and bonding rejected the theory.

And yet, he felt it. One minute he sat spellbound, watching the man's arse stretch as he impaled himself on Severus' erection. The next minute he was drowned in a deluge of affection, of gratitude and of a maddening sense of completeness. His own sense of prudence and pessimism battled for his sanity and lost the war. He had never before felt quite as lonely as when he was confronted with the wholeness the other man offered.

Madness and lack of sleep. He managed to pull himself under control eventually, surrendering to Harry's presence. To the babbling conversation aimed at pulling him away from emotional turmoil and mooring him to the present. It worked, and subsequent intimacy followed without further incident.

They belonged together.

Harry was wholly convinced of it. Some part of Severus agreed that it would seem the two men were being guided to that conclusion, but he couldn't help but wonder what sadistic force in the universe would wish such a fate on either of them. While there was some sick sense of cosmic justice in the notion that Severus, himself, would be destined to be in love with Harry. That Harry should meet the same fate seemed to go against the laws of the universe. The man deserved better. He deserved more than a washed-up, wandering wizard who was personally responsible for poisoning the first half of his life – to say nothing of the latter half.

Severus had long ago stopped dwelling on that aspect of their unlikely relationship. He'd not fully forgiven himself, as such, but he lived with his transgressions. He could put them out of his mind to focus on what they had built in the wake of their rocky start. But now, faced with the very idea that he and Harry might be somehow fated to be together (even now, he couldn't formulate the thought without snorting), Severus considered their entire history with a sense of incredulity.

Where did it leave them? Harry appealed to him to put off posing the question until some undefined future date. It was a typically Gryffindor suggestion, and Severus didn't really have it in him to ignore all that was wrong with basic premise. Fated to be together but cursed to be apart. He recognised Harry's reluctance to examine the theory too closely for what it was: strategic manipulation. Harry hoped that, having reached what he considered to be the obvious conclusion, he could use the next two weeks to insinuate himself so fully into Severus' life that Severus had but one choice left to him.

He could go home. He could forfeit the life of Hadrian Prince in favour of exhuming a dead man in the name of love. Severus could return to Britain and begin the process of writing a happier ending to the life of Severus Snape. Would it be so bad?

If Kingsley Shacklebolt's reaction to his continued existence were anything to go by, it would be bad. Disgust and mistrust on a large scale with only Harry to shield him. His eternal champion. Harry's standing in the Wizarding world was strong, but was it strong enough to withstand that level of deception? Was Severus really willing to risk ruining the man's life any more than he already had?

Was it really Harry's life he was worried about?

If he were honest, the prospect of returning to the Wizarding world was terrifying for him. His blood ran cold at the idea of confronting Minerva McGonagall. He had no idea of how she thought of him after learning the truth behind his actions. He could only hope that in hindsight she would see all that he'd done to protect the students during his tenure as Headmaster. He had hurt so many people, and where once, he'd hardened himself against the feelings of guilt that might inspire, after having lived life as a normal, decent human being for the past twenty years, he doubted he could now be so stoic.

And if confronting the hurt and deception of those few people in the Wizarding world whose opinion mattered to him wasn't daunting enough, the idea of revealing himself as Harry Potter's lover was enough to make him doggedly cling to his death. He attempted to picture himself standing next to the other man, facing the Weasley clan and professing his love for their adopted member to the matriarch. His imagination recoiled. His mind promptly filled with white noise in self-defence.

In an ideal world, Harry would be unattached. They would settle in some anonymous corner of the world and live out their affair to its logical end. As much as Severus yearned for this ideal, he recognised it for what it was: Impossible. Harry wasn't unattached. Anonymity was not an option.

And Severus was not going to return to Britain.

So where did it leave them?

"Hey!" Harry greeted, letting a rucksack slide from his shoulder. He deposited it next to the door and entered the room where Severus sat sulking on the sofa. He extended a small paper cup in offering. "Double espresso. Two sugars. Theda told me that's what you drink."

As Severus took the offering, Harry planted his knees on either side of Severus' thighs and straddled him, leaning in for a kiss. His mouth was sweet and coffee-flavoured. The man pulled back and gazed at Severus studiously. "What's the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing." Severus chased his lie with a sip of the bitter-sweet liquid.

"I knew it was too early to leave you alone. You've been thinking," he accused with mock gravity.

Severus gave a rueful laugh and shook his head. "As I am wont to do."

"Where does it leave us?" Harry guessed.

Severus averted his eyes. "Harry-"

"Sev, there is no easy answer to that. But I feel better than I've felt in ... God, I can't even remember the last time I felt so good. I love you. You love me. And that's all that matters today. If we only have these two weeks, at least let's make them the best two weeks they can be. Because, let's face it, even if I were to leave today, the damage is done. Separation is going to be painful. We'll argue about what next when we have to. Today... well, Theda gave me the tickets for tonight's show." He gave a cheerful smile, and then leant in to kiss Severus' grim frown.

"I'm never going back, Harry," Severus said quietly.

The cheer disappeared from Harry's face. He lowered his eyes and nodded. "So you've said a thousand times," he said. "And if it's true, then this is really all we have. I'm not inclined to spend the time arguing about it. Let's go somewhere."

Severus gave the other man a long look. The subject was far from closed. It was merely added to the increasing stack of issues they were ignoring in favour of repairing that which had been so damaged in the past few years. He nodded to concede defeat and surrendered again to the man's perpetual present.


Harry and Severus entered the crowded bar and made their way to where three high-top tables had been pushed together and declared "Reserved". Theda sat with a man with a shaved head and multi-coloured rings lining the shell of his ear and a silver ring through his septum. A studded black leather collar encircled his neck above a black t-shirt printed with a logo of some band Harry hadn't ever heard of called Joy Division.

"Josh, Harry," Severus said, rushing through the introductions. The man's hand was laden with rings, and a sleeve of tattoos stretched up into his t-shirt. Harry shook it. "Can I get anyone something to drink?" Severus asked.

As both Theda and Josh were already nursing their own drinks, Severus made his way to the bar alone, leaving Harry with the others. "Where's Susan?" Harry asked in an effort to make conversation.

"Susan's backstage," Theda informed him. "You and Josh have a lot in common," she declared with a wry smile.

Josh's eyes widened. "Spatula," he said quickly.

Harry blinked. "Spatula?"

Theda rolled her eyes. "I wasn't going to talk about that," she said. "You're both recovering bisexuals," she said to Harry.

A surprised laugh burst from Harry's lips. He glanced at Josh who was staring at his girlfriend with an exasperated expression. He met Harry's eyes and gave him a crooked grin. There was a sizeable chip missing from his top front tooth that inexplicably made him look more charming. "It's a kind of social safe-word," the man explained. "To avoid comments like that." He laughed and nudged the woman.

"No worries," Harry said, reassuring Theda more than anything. "It certainly keeps the conversation interesting," he laughed. Harry had to admit to being curious. He'd have quite liked to hear this man's story, having never really had the opportunity to quiz other self-proclaimed bisexuals. Given the man's relationship with Theda, he assumed the man had chosen to go the other way. Unfortunately, there was nothing wrong with his own social gauge, and digging for details about a stranger's sexuality was simply not polite conversation. "How long have you been together?" he asked instead.

"Nine years, four months, one week and three days," Theda reported.

"Blimey," Harry said.

"You did ask," Josh laughed, taking a sip of his beer. "How long have you known Hadrian?"

"Nearly thirty years," Harry said. "He was my teacher," he added.

"I told you that," Theda said.

Josh shrugged. "Must have forgotten. I can't get my head around the idea of Hadrian as a teacher," he said. "What was it like?"

"Painful," Harry answered truthfully.

"And probably not in a good way," Josh grinned.

Harry snorted. "Not in a good way," he conceded. "He hated teaching. And me in particular."

"Has he changed much?" the man asked, eyes darting to the bar. Harry followed his gaze. Severus was drawn into a conversation with a man who wore a sympathetic expression. Severus' own expression appeared to be gracious, but the stiffness in his posture spoke of his discomfort. Harry wondered if he should go and rescue the man. He decided to give it another minute or so.

"It's hard to say," Harry said. "I only knew him as his student, which is to say, not at all. I'd say he's calmer now. Less miserable. A little less dark." Harry gave a sideways smile. "But only a little," he said.

"I don't think he's changed at all since I met him," Josh said. "He's like … ageless. Like a vampire," the man grinned. Theda snorted beside him, eyes turned toward Severus. "He's even got the scars on his neck from where he was bitten."

Harry's eyes widened. He thought of the two round puncture marks on Severus' neck. The number of times he'd run his tongue over them. He wondered how Severus explained those away and wondered that Josh had noticed them at all. Severus' shirt collar normally covered them. "It was a common rumour among the kids at school," he mused.

Harry could feel Severus approach. His skin seemed to tingle from the proximity. He twisted around to see the man looking annoyed and ready to leave before the show even began. He handed Harry his drink and slid onto the stool next to him. "We were just discussing your timeless beauty, your vampiric allure and your sadistic streak," Harry grinned.

Severus raised an eyebrow, narrowing his eyes as they turned to Josh. "If I'd have known that the two of you would compare notes, I'd have stayed to be flattered," he said. His mouth curved into a smile that looked menacing.

Josh's mouth dropped open. "We-we weren't," he stammered.

Realisation struck as Harry glanced from Severus' now abashed look to Josh's horrified one. Theda exploded with laughter, loud and disproportionate. Suddenly, it became clear what else Harry and Josh had in common that might require the use of a safe-word to avoid being said.

Harry narrowed his eyes at Severus a moment before his mouth curled into a wicked smirk. "But now that you're here," he teased.

Josh lowered his eyes to his drink and pursed his lips together. "It was a long time ago." He aimed a kick at Theda's chair.

"This night is just getting better and better," Severus muttered.

Harry gave him a cheeky grin. "Anyone else here I should know about?"

Severus gave him a look.

"There's a story here," Harry prodded. It would have been kinder to let the matter go, but he never got a chance to dig into the life of Hadrian. He admitted to being intrigued. He stared at Josh to reassess the man, trying to see what Severus must have seen. "Who seduced whom?"

Neither man seemed keen to discuss it, and Harry had resigned himself to trying to pry the information out of Severus later when Theda spoke. "Josh threw himself at Hadrian," she said flatly.

Josh's eyes met Severus'. He laughed. "I wouldn't say that," he protested. "More like I made sure I was noticed," he lowered his eyes. He wore an embarrassed smile. "We met here I think. He was talking to someone I sort of knew, and so I put myself in his path." He glanced over at Theda. "And then when I was going home the next morning, I took a fateful wrong turn into the shop. She had me at 'wrong door, genius,'" he said with an exaggerated sigh.

Theda lowered her eyes. "Something else you two have in common," she said to her drink. "An affinity for difficult people."

"Masochism," Severus clarified.

"Perhaps we should start a support group," Josh said to Harry. "Mean people and the masochists who love them," he suggested.

Harry snorted. "And that was it. You just ... turned straight?" he asked. He had a hard time imagining that after sleeping with Severus any man could be satisfied with a woman.

Josh shrugged. "I've always been attracted to girls," he explained. "Sleeping with men was sort of a hobby, I guess. Fun every now and again, but it was never emotional."

Harry thought of Ginny and understood. "My ex-wife is a bit like that," he confessed.

"I guess you were on the other side of the spectrum," Josh offered.

"He said that Hadrian made him gay," Theda shared.

Harry laughed and put his head in his hands.

"Well, I can totally see that," Josh said with a smile in Severus' direction.

"Stop. I'm about to blush," Severus drawled.

Harry rolled his eyes. "As if you've blushed in the last thirty years," he said doubtfully.

"It's a wonder you're still capable of it," Severus noted. He reached over to brush Harry's cheek with his thumb. He dropped his hand with a satisfied smile. "Behind those deceptively innocent, green eyes lurks the depraved mind of a particularly enthusiastic whore," Severus declared with a smug smirk.

"What was the safe-word again? Spatula?" Harry asked, covering his eyes with one hand. "I can't believe you said that," he said with a small, desperate laugh.

"I like having you around, Hadrian," Theda decided aloud.

The group's attention was called to the stage as the band was gathered. Susan came up behind them and kissed Severus on the cheek. She squeezed Harry on the shoulder and sat on a neighbouring stool. "Well done for getting him here," she said to Harry.

"I think I'm being punished for it," Harry said aiming a kick to the man's stool.

Severus smirked, but said nothing.

The band was interesting and put on a good show. Harry couldn't have characterised the music if he tried, but Susan described them as a punky sort of bluegrass sound with a performance art flair ... whatever that meant. They were strange, anyway, but rather fun to watch. The female singer was a short, heavy-set young woman with a voice that ranged from delicate to soulful.

As they watched the performance, a series of people walked up to Severus and offered sympathy in the form of physical contact which had the man wound up and ready to spring by intermission. "I'm going," he announced as the crowds of people made a rush to the bar to get drinks in before the next set.

Harry frowned at him. "If you get through it tonight, you won't have to do it again," he argued. The look he received told Harry that he wouldn't make it through the night without harming some well-meaning soul. Harry nodded and stood.

"You don't have to leave," Severus told him. "You're in good hands." He looked beyond Harry toward Susan. "I'll wait up for you," he said into Harry's ear.

Harry's expression turned stubborn. The last thing he wanted to do was to leave Severus alone to his thoughts. Nothing good could come from Severus thinking. He shook his head. "I'll go with you," he insisted.

"Stay," Severus said, pushing Harry back to the stool. "I'll see you later." He addressed the wider group when he said, "I trust you will entertain him in my absence."

The three others quietly nodded, casting uncertain and pained looks at the other man as he fled the bar. Harry watched after him, unsure whether to follow.

"He looks like he needs some time alone," Susan commented for Harry's benefit. "It's his first night out and he hates the sympathy thing."

"I know," Harry said, irritated that anyone should presume to explain Severus' actions to him. It didn't bother him that Severus wanted to go. It bothered him that he wanted to go without Harry.

"He's better, though," Josh said. "I mean, this is the first time I've seen him since the funeral. He looks so much better than he did. I wasn't sure he'd survive it."

Harry frowned and cast his eyes to his half-finished drink. Severus wasn't quite out of the woods yet, he'd have liked to say, but didn't. Susan's hand came to clasp his shoulder. "Harry's good for him," she declared.

Harry snorted. "Someone should tell him that," he muttered under his breath.

"How's the visit gone so far?" Susan asked.

Harry felt a certain measure of guilt when he looked at the woman. This was David's sister, and Harry couldn't imagine she wanted details regarding his fraught relationship with her dead brother's partner. "Fine, thanks."

She looked at him and nodded. "I hope we have a chance to chat later," she said.

Harry finished his drink to have an excuse to leave the table to get another. The wait at the bar was long, and by the time he was served, the band had already begun their second set and Harry was spared from trying to make conversation. Harry's interest had abated significantly, and now he only really wanted to follow Severus home. Severus needed space, however, and Harry wasn't going to push him.

What really worried him, if he were honest, was that Severus might not be completely over David yet. It was callous and selfish of him, he realised. He'd never admit it out loud, but he couldn't help the feeling of feral jealousy that stirred inside him. It was ridiculous to harbour jealousy over a dead man, he castigated himself. But the sentiment would not be reasoned away.

It was a question of timing, he supposed. Harry couldn't help but feel a sense of urgency when he thought of Severus. A fear that fate would move the two men along in different directions if they didn't seize the opportunity to be together that they now had. As petty as the feeling was, Harry couldn't help but find Severus' residual grief over David more than a little inconvenient.

He was a terrible person.

When the second set ended, Harry forced himself to patiently finish his drink before rising. "Thanks for the invitation," he said to Susan. "I liked the music. It was ... quirky," he decided, forcing a smile to his face.

Susan looked at him a little sadly and nodded. "Let me walk you out," she said, rising.

Harry bid farewell to the other two, who were in a discussion with some people from a neighbouring table, and made his way through the crowd with Susan trailing behind him. He stopped once he got out on the street and turned. "Thanks again."

Susan nodded in recognition. "You're always welcome," she said. "And I mean that. I know we don't know each other very well, Harry, but I appreciate everything you did in the time Hadrian was away to keep us in the loop. We all care for him a great deal," she said.

Harry nodded. "I know," he said. "And I know how hard that can be sometimes," he added with a wry smile. "I'm glad he made his way back home in the end."

"Home," she repeated. "Do you really think this is his home?"

"It's the only one he cares to recognise," he said, not without bitterness. Severus' declaration resurfaced. I'm never going back. And while Harry would have been wise to accept that as truth, the delicately optimistic side of him reasoned that he had another ten days to convince the man.

"Mary seems to think he'll go back to Britain," she said.

Harry nodded. "She told me," he said. "I hope she's right," he said with a smile. "I know you will all miss him, but I think it's where he belongs now."

"With you?" she asked, meeting his eyes.

Harry gave the woman a long look. He had a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, and so there was little point in trying to deny her implications. Instead he said, "I'm sorry, Susan. I know it seems insensitive of me. I didn't come here with the intention of convincing him to leave, but-"

"You've been in love with him your entire adult life," she finished.

Harry blinked.

"David told me," she said. "It's funny really. I never really spent too much time with him until he was dying," she said sadly. "He told me a lot about Hadrian. About his horrible childhood. He told me that everyone Hadrian had ever loved was dead. Apart from you," she said.

"He has you as well," Harry said. It was an empty reassurance. He knew that Severus cared for the women of the coven, but it was clear that his days here were numbered.

"David talked a lot in the last few days," Susan said. "He was incoherent a lot of the time and made no sense. And so ... I didn't even take notice when he woke up one day and told me that I had to pass on a message to Hadrian. I didn't give it a second thought until something you said the other night brought the memory back," she said. "Harry, who's Severus Snape?"

The ground seemed to drop suddenly from under him. Harry's expression remained blank, but his heart lodged itself in his throat. "I don't know," he said far steadier than he felt. "What did he say?"

She looked at him as though trying to determine if he was lying. "Severus Snape isn't dead," she said quietly. "I didn't know if it was one of his characters or... He'd been going on about wizards and parallel universes just an hour before, and so I didn't pay any mind. But he was adamant that I needed to pass the message." She looked at him. "Your son is called Severus."

"Albus," Harry corrected over the sound of his thundering heart. "Albus Severus."

"You've never heard the name? Severus Snape?"

Harry tried not to visibly cringe at the sound of the name on this woman's lips. He struggled to determine how best to handle the situation. He knew he had to deny it, but the woman couldn't go around saying that name out loud. "Sorry," he said. "David met my son when they were in Britain. Maybe he remembered the name and used it for one of his stories?" he tried.

The explanation seemed to assuage her suspicions. She nodded. "Maybe," she said and then smiled. The corners of her eyes crinkled the way Harry remembered David's had done. "Maybe I should have told Hadrian. It might have been some secret message or something." She laughed.

"I can pass it on for you," Harry offered quickly. "If you want," he said more calmly. "I'll tell him tonight."

She nodded. "You finally moved out of the hotel?"

Harry lowered his eyes guiltily. "It's harder to storm out angrily if we're staying in the same place," he offered.

She snorted. "No one's going to begrudge him a bit of comfort, Harry. He and David hadn't been intimate for months before David died. I'm glad he's got you."

Harry gave an awkward smile. "I don't want you to think I'm trying to ... replace-"

"It's what David wanted. He said you're the only one who could save him. I think he was right," she offered.

Harry looked at her a long moment before snorting. "No pressure or anything," he said dryly. "I think you all overestimate the power I have over him. Severus does what he wants. He always has done."

"Hadrian," Susan said, her eyes glittering in the street lamps. "You called him Severus," she said.

Harry stood stricken. "I –" He could feel sweat break out on his palms. He rubbed them together. He gave a low laugh and forced a grin to his face. "It's a catchy name," he laughed dismissively. "Hadrian does what he wants," he corrected. He shook his head. "I should go and ... you know, save him. From his thoughts, if nothing else." He chewed the inside of his mouth and kicked himself a thousand times for his slip-up.

"You'll pass on the message?"

"Yeah," he promised. One way or another.

"Good night, Harry. I'll see you soon," she said and turned to go back inside. She stopped suddenly and turned to him. "We should go for coffee next week," she said. "How's Monday morning?"

Harry nodded warily. "All right." He could only hope by Monday he would think of a clever way to erase all suspicions. The walk back to Severus' flat was relatively short, and Harry wasn't ready to face the man by the time he arrived. Instead he lingered in the garden, sitting at the small round table.

Smooth, Potter, he thought and covered his face with his hands. He'd always been so careful and in one flustered moment, he threatened to undo everything Severus had built up. He told himself that slip-up might very well be considered a mistake, but looking back on their conversation, it was clear she'd already suspected, and Harry's mistake would simply confirm that suspicion.

He needed to tell Severus. He could only hope he'd survive the confession. The man would be furious with him. This, after all, was the very reason Severus had once been so adamant not to let Harry into his world. Some part of him rebelled against the guilt he now felt. Had Severus stayed at the bar, none of this would have happened. Had Severus let Harry leave with him, he'd not have had the chance to threaten the foundations of the man's life.

He didn't know how long he sat there, hating himself for his stupidity when the door opened. Severus poked his head out to look at him quizzically. "Planning to camp in my garden?"

"It's a nice garden," Harry said weakly. He gave a small smile and tried to summon the courage to confess his probably catastrophic mistake. "How did you know I was here?"

Severus shook his head. "I felt a disturbance in the force," he said dryly.

Harry frowned. "I didn't know you had wards up," he said.

"I don't," Severus admitted. "It's a reference to... nothing. Are you coming in?"

Harry nodded and stood. Following the man up the stairs into the warmth of his flat, Harry tried to determine how he was going to break the news. He wondered if it wasn't better to talk to Susan first. Perhaps Severus never need know that his anonymity had been threatened.

Coward, his conscience chastised him. And he was. It was simply that he didn't want the fight that would inevitably come after. The argument that might very well spoil whatever chance at peace the two men had over the next weeks. The fight that might significantly shorten Harry's stay. Selfish.

"You're quiet," Severus remarked as Harry hung his coat and toed off his shoes. "How did the rest of the night go?"

Harry took a deep breath. "I spoke with Susan after the show," he said.

"Would you like a drink?" Severus asked.

Harry nodded and paused in his retelling to watch the man pour whisky into glasses. He took a drink from the proffered glass and glanced up. "Sev-"

"I apologise for not having told you about Josh in advance," Severus said. "To be honest, it didn't occur to me. It's been over ten years."

Harry looked at the man, who appeared uncharacteristically anxious. He laughed. "You don't have to be sorry," he reassured him. "It would be ridiculous of me to be jealous of you in this world," he said. "It's not like I have any claim over you. And I certainly didn't have any claim over you then, so..." He shrugged.

Severus frowned. "Then why were you sitting in my garden?" he asked, puzzled.

Harry gave him a miserable look. "Susan asked me to pass a message onto you," he said. "She said it was something that David had told her. She said that he was so often incoherent in the last few weeks that she'd never thought much about it until the other night at the Pizzeria."

Severus raised an eyebrow and waited. Harry looked at him uncertainly. "Severus Snape isn't dead," Harry said quietly.

Severus took a quick breath. His hand moved to the counter as though to steady him. "Ah," he said.

"She asked me if I knew who Severus Snape was, and I told her I didn't," Harry continued. "She said she'd thought it was just some character from a story David was writing, but that hearing the name the other night made her wonder. I suggested that David had met Albus and perhaps just remembered the name."

Severus nodded and walked slowly over to the sofa, cradling his glass. He sat down and stared blankly at nothing in particular. After a moment, he exhaled. "That's a passable explanation. I can work with that," he said.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "I fucked up, Sev. I was so ... flustered by the question ..." Harry put his head in his hands. "I slipped up and called you Severus."

A long silence followed his admission. The temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees. "I see," Severus said flatly.

"I covered. Just a slip of the tongue, you know. But I'm not sure she bought it," he admitted. "I'm so sorry," he said lamely. He dropped his hands and looked over at the man who wore a darkly amused expression. "Severus?"

"I always knew you'd destroy me," he said wryly. He downed the contents of his glass.

The statement hollowed him out. The space where his heart had been promptly filled with panic. "I –" He was sorry, but he'd already said that. He thought that Severus didn't doubt his contrition. The words ran through his head on loop, but nothing more helpful than that came.

Severus said nothing. He stared into space. Harry imagined he was struggling to find a way to repair the damage Harry had done. Harry leant against the counter and sipped his drink. The golden spirit blended with the bile and burnt a path to his stomach.

"Did you enjoy the band?" Severus asked after a long moment.

Harry looked at the man trying to determine what he was thinking. He walked over to sit beside him. "Do you hate me?"

Severus snorted. "Since the day you were born," he said.

Sleep came late and was anything but restful. Severus dreamt he was being chased by some unseen force and his feet would not carry him quickly enough to escape it. When he woke up, Harry was propped onto an elbow, stroking his head and whispering to him that it was ok. That everything would be all right.

Severus wanted very much to believe him, but his dark imagination proved stronger than his optimism. By the time he'd had a cup of tea he was taken by a sort of fatalistic calm. He knew that he'd have to talk to Susan. He knew it would have to be soon, before she began spreading her suspicions around their social circle.

Harry spent the morning in a sheepish silence. Severus thought he should say something to reassure the man that it wasn't entirely his fault. Severus ought never to have left him alone. David should never have said anything, but it was hard to blame a dead man when there was a very real and solid scapegoat available. He had trouble being angry with Harry for his mistake. Although at certain moments he thought to berate the man for being so careless, it occurred to Severus that this was just one of many cracks in the foundations of this life he'd created. It was one more proof that Hadrian Prince's time was limited.

Susan arrived for lunch, and Harry took his leave. When Severus gave him the story he planned to tell Susan, Harry decided it was better if he were gone. He'd already lived through one such confession – he didn't want to go through it again. Severus, having been responsible for subjecting the other man to that confession, didn't think to argue.

"Harry gave me David's message," Severus told her as they were finishing up the takeaway Thai curry.

She looked at him expectantly, staring at him in that open, receptive way that David used to look at him when he was fishing for information. "Do you know what he meant?" she asked at last.

Severus nodded. "During the course of our relationship, I shared a great many secrets with David. Secrets he swore to take to his grave, and I supposed he very nearly made it," he said wryly. "Susan, I'm going to tell you part of what I shared with him, but only on the condition that you keep it to yourself. At least while I remain here, that name must never be spoken," he said with quiet intensity.

Susan put down her fork and nodded at him gravely. "While you remain here? Are you planning to go somewhere?"

Severus gave a non-committal shrug. "I've made no plans yet," he said. He lowered his eyes and spoke to his plate. "There are many details I can't go into. There are secrets that I have been sworn to keep and to tell you would only endanger you," he said. It was a little dramatic, but not quite a lie. He absolutely needed her to understand the need for silence.

She laughed weakly. "You're starting to scare me, Hadrian," she said.

Severus shook his head. "There's no reason to be scared. But I suspect you may not believe me," he said wryly. "I've heard some of the theories you and the Coven have come up with for my reasons for leaving Britain. Believe me when I tell you fact is often stranger than fiction." He took a deep breath and began his careful telling of the safe truth. "When I was much younger I got involved with a rather dangerous group of people. I had cause to regret that involvement, but by then it was too late to pull out. In consequence, I used my position within this organisation to help to destroy it."

"So, you weren't a teacher?" Susan asked.

Severus looked at her a long moment while he tried to determine how much he was willing to say. "I was a teacher. It was part of my cover. I was set at the school to protect Harry, who was targeted by this group for political reasons," he explained. "Reasons I won't go into," he hastened to add. "It wouldn't make sense to you without the context, and I can't give you that context."

Shock warred with disbelief in her expression. Shock won out. "Harry? Why would anyone want to kill Harry?"

"He can be supremely irritating," Severus joked. "Apart from that, it has to do with who his parents were. I told you his parents were dead. It was this organisation that was responsible for their deaths," he said carefully. As he had no desire to go into his own involvement in that whole affair, he kept his explanation at that and continued, "This went on for many years and, just when everything was coming to a head, the main mastermind of this organisation tried to kill me. He set his snake on me," he said, pulling his collar down to display his scars.

"So it wasn't a freak accident when you were travelling," she said.

"No," Severus said. "I'd taken steps in the final years to build up resistance to the snake's venom. She was a weapon of choice for the man, and I knew that if my cover were ever blown, it was one of the likely ways in which he'd have me killed," he admitted. "I survived as a consequence, but my presumed death had already been announced far and wide."

"Severus Snape isn't dead," she quoted.

"He is dead to everyone but two people, who know of my continued existence, and who have helped me create the identity of Hadrian Prince."

"Like a witness protection program?" she asked.

"If you like," Severus agreed. "After my supposed death, my role as informant was made known. The organisation was disbanded – more or less. But there were still be a number of people who might hold a grudge," he said.

"Jesus Christ," she breathed. "We always joked about your mystery, Hadrian, but we never really dreamed..." She shook her head. Her face pulled into a sudden frown. "If it's so dangerous for you, why on earth would David want you to go back? Or Harry for that matter."

Severus frowned. "This was nearly twenty years ago. The danger has diminished significantly, or so Harry assures me." He looked at her and gave a parody of a smug smirk. "And I'm a pretty dangerous man myself," he said.

She stared at him, as though trying to imagine him as a dangerous person. "So, what happened to the man who tried to kill you?"

"He was killed."

"Did you?"

Severus shook his head. "Harry," he said gravely. "The man finally got to him, and Harry managed to turn his own weapon against him. Miraculously, he survived the encounter."

Her eyes were wide and unbelieving. "I mean, he's a cop so it stands to reason that he might have to kill someone. But ... Lord, he was just a kid, right?"

"He wasn't your average seventeen year old."

She grunted. "I remember when you and David went to Britain – which, by the way, I can't believe you did – After David met Harry, I asked him what Harry was like. And he told me that he was the most amazing person he'd ever hated." She gave a wry smile.

"I'd taken certain precautions in going to Britain. It was safe," Severus reassured her. "And David had no reason to feel threatened by Harry," he added.

Susan snorted incredulously. "Yeah, why would your partner feel threatened by someone with whom you have a life-long connection, who is so obviously in love with you?" she said dryly. "He didn't hate him. Not really. You remember that time Harry came, when David was sick?"

Severus nodded. "The time the three of you banded together to conspire against me," he said reproachfully.

She laughed. "Yeah. That time." She offered a sly smile before continuing. "After he left, David asked me to help him convince you to go back to Britain. He said that you and Harry belonged together."

Severus sneered at the comment. He knew she was telling the truth, as he and David had had similar conversations, but it irritated him to know that David had pulled in supporters for his ill-conceived matchmaking campaign. "I loved David," he protested.

She smiled fondly. "I know that. No one would ever doubt that. But ..." She took a deep breath and looked pensive a moment. "When I was young and naive, I dreamed of becoming a singer. It was what I wanted above everything else. But I grew up. I got my business degree and opened my music store. I began promoting local bands, and I never looked back. I love my job. Apart from the kids, it's my whole world. But if a record label came tomorrow wanting to sign me, I'd have to seriously consider dropping everything."

Severus pursed his lips together. "I fail to see how this is comparable," he lied.

She shook her head. "Are you considering it?"

"Signing onto a record label?"

"Going back to Britain."

"No," Severus said. "I have already considered it and rejected it."

Susan nodded. "So what will happen with Harry?" she asked, her tone laden with sympathy.

"I suspect he will go back to start his new job. We will send each other concise summaries of our lives at irregular intervals and go on as we've done for the past twenty years." The irritation in his voice had less to do with the question than the instinctual knowledge that he was lying. The urgency inherent in this visit spoke of Fate's touch, and Severus didn't believe anything would be the same between the two men again.

"And you're okay with that? That's what you want?"

"It's what I've chosen," Severus said in a low voice. "I don't wish to discuss it further."

"Oh, Hadrian," she sighed. After a moment she stood. "Come here and give me a hug," she said, holding her arms out.

Severus stood and came around the table to take the small woman in his arms.

"Thanks for telling me all of this," she said as she squeezed him tightly.

"I'm counting on your discretion," he said, pulling back to look at her.

She gave him a bland look. "I like to gossip, Hadrian. But I know when to keep quiet. Your secret is safe with me." She lifted her hand to touch his face before turning toward the door.

"If you happen to see my wandering house guest, tell him it's safe to come back," Severus said.

She nodded and left.

Harry didn't return until nearly dinner time. A winter chill clung to him as he came in the flat, cheeks flushed with cold and eyes dull with weariness. He gave Severus a wan smile. "I went around Muggle Denver," he explained, rubbing the heat back into his hands. "It's bloody freezing."

"You could have stayed," Severus said. "She took it well, all things considered."

Harry nodded. "I'm really sorry, Severus."

Severus sighed. "I know you are. It's not entirely your fault. David deserves his share of the blame, although it's entirely possible he didn't know what he was saying," he said. "What's done is done. Are you hungry?"

Harry shook his head. "I feel a little wretched, actually. I might lie down for a bit. Unless you want to kick me out, which I would totally understand."

Severus frowned irritably. "Don't be absurd. Go and lie down. I'll make you some tea," he said, turning to get the pot as Harry padded behind him toward the bed.

"Did she have loads of questions?" Harry asked.

"Not too many. I told her that I couldn't give her details, and she seemed to accept that," Severus said as he filled the pot with boiling water from his wand. "In that sense, she and David are nothing alike," he added as an afterthought. "Of course, as she has time to get over the initial shock, questions may occur to her."

He turned to Harry to see him huddled down under the blankets. His jeans lay in a pile by the side of the bed. He shivered slightly. Severus snorted and pulled down some mugs. "You know, we have this little thing called a warming charm that is useful in cold weather. I know you know how to cast one," he said dryly.

"I don't deserve to be warm," he muttered.

"If I wanted to punish you, Harry, I wouldn't choose pneumonia as my method," Severus said with a smirk. He walked over to the bed and put Harry's tea on the table. He sat down. "I'm annoyed that you were so careless. But there's no pleasure to be had in berating you when you're doing an outstanding job of it already. As the damage was minimal, I'm not of a mind to press the issue."

He reached out to push Harry's fringe from his forehead. The skin beneath his fingers was hot. He scowled. "You have fever," he said accusingly.

Harry groaned, lifting his hand to his forehead. "Great," he growled and then buried his face in the pillow. His next statement was muffled and unintelligible.

"You're smearing your plague all over my pillow," Severus pointed out in a flat tone.

Harry turned over and stared at the ceiling. "I should have stayed home," he said dully. "This whole trip has been a fucking disaster."

Severus ignored the man's whinging and stood to go to the bathroom. He uncharmed the potions cabinet and drew out an analgesic. He walked back to where the other man lay, his hands covering his face. "Drink this," he ordered. "I'll pop to the apothecary in Denver to get some Pepper-up," he added. "Try not to cough over everything while I'm gone."

Harry snorted and sat up to drain the phial. He immediately sank down again, pulling the covers up to his chin and closing his eyes. Severus glared down a moment and reflected on a promise he'd made to himself to never look after an invalid again. He supposed the promise he'd made to the gods to look after this man preceded the latter.

After pulling on his boots and coat, he apparated to the Inbetween Mall.


Harry awoke to a dimly lit room. A ball of light hovered over the sofa, giving off a soft, rosy glow that centred over the bent dark head of Severus. Harry's head ached, his body ached, and his throat felt as though it contracted over razor blades every time he swallowed. He never got sick. He couldn't recall the last time he had a cold and he couldn't think of a worse time to have caught one.

It was karma. Or Fate. Someone somewhere was trying to tell him something, he was sure. He shouldn't be here. He'd felt it the moment he revealed himself to Severus, and it had been proven again and again every day since then. His heart railed against the notion. His very soul, even now, reached out for contact with the man sitting quietly on the sofa. But if Harry ignored mere sentiment and looked at the situation objectively, this visit had been a bad idea. And he couldn't shake the feeling that the damage done was irreparable.

What began as a well-meaning visit to facilitate the mending of an old bridge had become an emotional mess. The whole urgency of their present situation smacked of a now or never turning point that was wholly self-inflicted. Completely unnecessary. They had said too much. Too much too soon.

Would there ever have been a good time to discuss feelings with this man? Knowing how Severus felt about returning to the Wizarding world, the sentiments expressed only served to make the situation more hopeless. The elation he'd felt initially had faded to frustrated resentment that was both unwarranted and unfair. He had no right to expect anything of this man.

And then he had to go and blow Severus' cover. He certainly didn't do it purposefully, but that only made it worse. He was an Auror. He was, in fact, The Auror. One didn't make careless mistakes in his position or people tended to get hurt. Harry wondered now if some mutinous part of him had done it deliberately. He didn't want to think himself petty enough to sabotage Severus' life here, but maybe on an unconscious level...

"Can I get you something?" Severus intoned from the sofa without turning around. He must have sensed Harry's gaze. The way Harry had always felt Severus'. A tickle at the back of the neck.

It meant nothing.

"No, thanks," he said painfully before slipping out of bed to have a piss. On his way back he went to his trunk to pull out pyjama bottoms and a jumper, before going to the kitchen area to get a cup. He filled it with hot water and drank it plain, letting the warmth ease his throat.

Severus set his book aside and stood, stretching his neck and back. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Fine," Harry answered in a soft voice. Every word spoken was torture.

Severus went to the refrigerator and pulled out a lemon. Harry watched him slice it evenly before opening a cupboard and taking out a glass jar of cloves. "My mum used to make this for me when I was poorly," he said. "It might have been the most maternal thing she ever did," he added with a wry smile. He studded two lemon slices with the cloves before taking up a bottle of whisky from its place on the counter.

"Your mum gave you whisky?" Harry asked. His incredulous tone was defeated by the squeak in his voice.

"Hm. I acquired my tastes early on," he said dryly. He poured a measure of whisky into two glasses and then added two spoonfuls of sugar each before adding the studded lemon and filling the glass with hot water. He slid the glass over to Harry, who promptly wrapped his hands around it, relishing in the warmth.

"Thanks," he whispered.

Severus stepped over to him and put his cool hands against Harry's forehead. Harry closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said miserably.

"For getting sick?"


"Drink up. Get back to bed," Severus ordered.

Harry wrinkled his nose. "I can sleep on your sofa, if you prefer," he offered.

"Nonsense," Severus said. "I plan to use your feverish body to keep warm."

Harry's stupid heart swelled at the statement. His foolish mouth curved into a smile as he took up his drink and made his way back to the bed, which was still warm. The magic drink served to numb his throat. It tasted of a warm fire on a cold winter's night, and it was precisely what Harry needed. A few moments later, Severus joined him.

"Do you need anything to help you get to sleep?" Severus asked.

"I suppose a blow job's out of the question," Harry croaked back.

Severus laughed and slid down to lie facing Harry. "I rather think your energy might be better used to get well," he said, feigning reproach.

"We'll have to agree to disagree," Harry whispered, turning so that his backside moulded against Severus' naked front. Severus' arm encircled him, holding him close. Severus' breath puffed at regular intervals against Harry's neck. If Harry closed his eyes and quieted his mind, he could just about attain a sense of peace. The knowledge that the peace was transient only served to make it more precious.

Harry was slipping toward the brink of sleep when the press of lips to his neck stirred his awareness. A whispered, "Not a total disaster," melted into his skin. Harry snuggled closer and wished for time to stop.


Harry was alone when next he regained consciousness. The sun was stealing through the large windows lining the flat, telling Harry it was late in the morning. He felt rested, but that was the only improvement. His nose was clogged, and his throat was on fire. His head throbbed with every beat of his heart.

He fixed himself a cup of tea and took a hot shower to wash away the sweat of fever. The exertion only made him feel worse. He cast a drying spell on his hair and slipped back into bed, propping his head up just enough to make tea drinking possible. After summoning a box of tissues (that he hoped came from Severus' flat somewhere), he closed his eyes and tried to will his nose to open.

"When I said I wanted to keep you in bed for two weeks, this isn't quite what I had in mind."

Severus stared at him from the doorway. He held a brown paper bag in his arms which he deposited on the counter when he walked into the room.

Harry gave a croaky sort of grunt in recognition of what surely passed for humour in Severus' head. Harry wasn't feeling anything but resentful at the moment, and so it was the best he could muster. "I don't know what you mean. I'm the very picture of sex." He gave a snotty sort of sneer and then glared at the ceiling.

Severus walked into his field of vision, eyes raking down him as though to assess the veracity of his claim. He bent over to retrieve the pillow on his own side of the bed and covered Harry's face with it. He pulled down the covers to reveal Harry's naked form.

"That's more like it," he said decisively. Harry pulled the pillow from his face and grinned despite himself.

"I've brought you lunch," Severus informed him, going back to the paper bag and summoning bowls in which to put the soup he'd brought along.

Harry slipped out of bed and dressed before joining Severus at the table. "Were you working?" he asked.

Severus nodded. "I have an hour or so before my next client," he told him. "How are you feeling?"

"Bunged up and miserable, thanks for asking." He blew on a spoonful of steaming chicken soup.

"I took the liberty of cancelling your coffee date with Susan. She wishes you well and brought you soup," he said.

At the mention of Susan, Harry's stomach lurched sickeningly. "I think it better if I hole myself up here and avoid talking to anyone," he responded sullenly.

"A man after my own heart," Severus said dryly. "If you get bored, you can read this week's reading selection. It's entertaining," he said. "I've told Theda not to book any more appointments this week, but my schedule was already pretty full."

"I'll get by," Harry said. "This is really good soup."

"Finish it quickly, and I'll help with your congestion," Severus said.

The soup seeped into him, warming him to the core. When he'd finished, Severus ordered him to take off his jumper and lie on his belly, as he disappeared into the bathroom. He returned a few seconds later with a small jar. The fragrant scent of eucalyptus filled the air when he took the cap off.

"What is it?"

"My own take on a Muggle remedy that David favoured," Severus explained as he scooped the thick stuff out of the jar with two fingers. Severus climbed onto the bed and straddled Harry's arse. He wiped the unguent in the middle of Harry's back before beginning to spread it in ever widening circles. The first sensation was of heat warming the skin, followed by a cool sensation as the air touched it. The odour tunnelled through Harry's blocked nasal passages.

Harry released a luxurious groan. Severus' fingers dug into all the right places, expertly seeking out any source of discomfort and magically appeasing it. "God, I love your hands," Harry sighed.

"I think we've already covered that," Severus said wryly.

"Sometimes these things need to be reiterated," Harry said lazily.

Far too quickly for Harry's liking, Severus raised himself up and bid Harry flip onto his back. Harry rolled and blinked up at the other man. Severus gave him an enigmatic smile before reaching for the jar. Harry's hands went to Severus waist as he moved, and slipped up under his shirt to slide over his sides. "Maybe you can call in sick, too," he suggested, with little hope.

"You're busy getting well," Severus reproached, his hand held aloft with more of the gloopy salve. He sat back deliberately, arse pressing against that organ that cared nothing about Harry's head cold. Severus raised an eyebrow and Harry grinned.

"Behave," the man warned, before wiping his fingers against Harry's sternum.

Harry closed his eyes as Severus began spreading the hot/cold stuff over his chest. It proved to be a powerful cure for his blocked nose, and once he was able to breathe well enough, his mind was free to wonder what the salve might feel like over more sensitive parts.

Severus' practised hands spread outward, his fingers smearing the stuff over Harry's nipples. Harry bit his lip and moaned, hands moving to Severus' hips to still them as Harry's own hips flexed upward against Severus' weight. Severus smiled wickedly before leaning down to blow against Harry's nipple. Harry gasped. His hand curled around the back of Severus' head, intent on pulling him upward.

"If you try and kiss me, I shall be forced to put you down," Severus said darkly.

"How else will I keep you here?" Harry pouted, letting his head fall back to the pillow.

Severus chuckled and raised himself up again, gripping Harry's pyjama bottoms before tugging downward. Harry lifted his hips eagerly. His cock caught in the elastic waistband and then slapped heavily back against his abdomen.

A small dab of greasy pomade was gathered on Severus' fingertip. "This is going to burn," he promised. He moved to sit between Harry's thighs and met Harry's expectant gaze before bringing his finger down. Harry raised his knees to allow the man better access. He was nearly panting from the anticipation alone. He suddenly cared nothing about his cold. All discomfort was forgotten in the face of a new experience.

"Ready?" Severus asked. Harry wondered if he should be more scared than he was when the man's lips curled into a malicious smirk.

"Yes," Harry breathed, biting down on his lip just after.

A dry finger slipped between his cheeks, over his entrance, scissoring to hold the cheeks apart just enough to bring the slick index finger against his hole. The finger tipped inside and twisted, depositing the stuff around the sensitive ring.

At first, Harry felt only the pressure of Severus' finger. Two seconds later, he felt heat. Searing heat spread around his entrance. His eyes widened, his mouth opened in mute protest. It was unlike anything he'd ever felt. The pain grazed the fine line between tolerable and agony. Severus' finger worked inside him, adding friction to the already heated ring.

"Fuck ... fuck ... fuck," Harry breathed, squirming as though he could get away from the sensation. Severus' other hand, already covered in the salve, closed around his cock, hand slipping up over the exposed head to deposit a thin layer of fire and ice.

Tears sprang to Harry's eyes. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had his affinity for masochism tested. He couldn't recall the last time he'd been so aroused. He opened his eyes to see Severus watching him with an unfathomable expression. The man smiled slowly and Harry just had time to register the sight of the wand pointing at the base of his cock before he could feel the magical band close around it.

"No." Harry whimpered at the cruelty. The finger left him. Severus released his hold on Harry's cock and then climbed off the bed.

"What?" Harry breathed in disbelief.

"As much as I'd like to stay and torture you personally, I have an appointment."

"You're fucking joking," Harry hoped aloud, wrapping his own hand around the tortured flesh.

"You wanted to be punished."

Harry lay dumbfounded and half crazy as Severus went to wash his hands. "I'll return in a couple of hours to see how you're holding up," he said. "Try and rest." The man didn't even try to keep a straight face. The glint in his eye was purely sadistic.

A vague sense in incredulity mixed with a rising sense of panic as Harry watched the door close behind the man. With him went any chance of relief. A couple of hours. The words echoed in his head, taunting him. His arse was sizzling from the pomade. His erection burned coolly in the air. Harry wrapped his hand around the base choking it uselessly. His hand slipped up, adding pleasure to the maddening sensation. His other hand came up to cover his eyes as he whimpered at the sheer injustice of it all.

He rolled over and brought his fingers behind him, stretching them out to slide over his sensitised hole. His fingertips felt cold against the heated flesh and made him ache to be sodomised. A couple of hours.

A couple of hours?

He twisted to shove his head into the pillow and attempted to ignore everything going on from the neck down. If he were to survive this, he would need a distraction. He recalled Severus suggestion of the book and summoned it. It flew to him from the sofa. The cover had the words, The Vesuvius Club, scrawled across the front in stylised writing. The recommendation on the front described the story as 'depraved', which Harry thought fit his current state of mind precisely.

He made an honest attempt at reading for the first hour or so, but if someone asked him what the story was about, he'd have a difficult time recounting it. The burning had cooled to an intense tingle and an acute awareness of the affected skin. He contemplated going to try and wash away the salve, but that would do nothing to erase the far bigger problem of the constriction spell and he thought Severus might be disappointed in him for cheating.

The last thought made him laugh a little hysterically.

In the end, Harry submitted to the idea of torture. After a bit of rooting around, Harry discovered Severus' box of tricks under the bed and made quick work of the locking spell.


Severus was a cruel man.

It was so much a part of him that he scarcely thought anything of it. For two hours, he thought of little else. As he met patient after patient, he struggled to keep focussed on the task at hand, on the reading of muscle and bone. He forbade his mind to wander upstairs where his ward sat, steeping in arousal and squirming at the maddening sensation of the salve.

By now, the burning would have subsided, but the tingling would become like a maddening itch that no amount of scratching could relieve. Harry would be desperate to be touched, and Severus was filled with an equal desperation to cater to the man's need.

He stiffly bade farewell to Mr Archer, removed his white coat and hung it up. He popped his head in to tell Theda that he might be a few minutes late for his next appointment in an hour's time and then climbed the stairs in twos. He paused a moment to still his enthusiasm, reining in his control just enough to allow for a moment of sadistic teasing before giving the man his release. Pulling his expression into one of vague interest, Severus opened the door.

And nearly fell over in shock.

He'd expected to find the man in bed, squirming uncomfortably. He found Harry kneeling submissively a few feet from the door. His eyes were cast downward toward his knees which were parted to reveal his tight balls below the angry red of his cock. A riding crop lay just in front of his knees, like an offering. The barest of smiles graced his pale lips as Severus stood gaping at the divine vision.

Severus swallowed hard and remembered himself. "I see you're feeling better," he commented, closing the door behind him and leaning against it.

"Yes, sir," the raspy voice answered. The man cleared his throat discreetly.

Severus was torn between amusement, arousal, and irritation at the man for being out of bed. He supposed he was to blame for the last. "I came up to see if you needed anything," he said, his tone laden with amusement.

He could see the corner of Harry's mouth twitch in an effort to keep the smile from his face. "I could do with some water, sir," he answered.

Judging by the sound of his voice, Severus suspected it to be the truth. "You were supposed to stay in bed," he couldn't help but say as he went to the kitchen to retrieve a glass of water. "How long have you been kneeling there?"

"The better part of an hour, sir," Harry answered. Severus' eyebrows shot up at the admission. He walked closer to the man until he came into the confines of a warming charm. At least the foolish man had the sense to do that.

Harry tilted his head up, eyes closed as Severus led the rim of the glass to his mouth. The man's tongue extended to receive it. He swallowed a sip, wincing slightly. Severus fought back a sigh and placed the glass on the dining table. "How are you feeling?" he asked in a low voice that was meant to communicate that he wasn't referring to the man's cold.

"Desperate," Harry breathed, the corner of his mouth tilting upward.

"Have you had a wash?" Severus asked.

"No, sir," Harry answered.

"Have you touched yourself?"

"Yes, sir."

Severus grinned. "I don't suspect that helped, did it?"

"It helped pass the time, sir." Severus could just see the man's smile stretch from beneath his downturned head.

Severus looked down at the riding crop. "You've been going through my things," he said dangerously. "Breaking into a box that was locked, Harry. Is that why you're offering yourself for punishment?"

"No, sir," the man answered.

"Give me the crop," Severus ordered.

Harry moved forward onto his hands. Severus' breath hitched at the sight of a black end of a plug nestled between his arse cheeks. His gaze went a little darker as Harry knelt at his feet, raising a crop up in offering.

"I see you've been very naughty indeed," Severus said.

Harry's lips pressed together as he nodded. "Yes, sir."

Severus walked around the man, his boots clicking against the wooden floor. He used the tip of the crop to urge the man to bend forward, offering another view of his incredible arse. He tapped the end of the plug with the crop and chuckled at the small gasp the blow incited. Harry's arse arched up further to reveal the underside of Harry's balls.

"Spread your legs wider," Severus ordered and was rewarded with a clearer view. His own arousal surged at the sight of the man's cock, pointed toward the ground, stretching out needily from the man's body. Severus aimed a light blow against Harry's perineum. The man's breath caught in his chest.

Severus walked over to the bed to take up the salve he'd used earlier. He gathered a pea size amount and moved back to where the man knelt on all fours. Severus knelt behind him and reached between his parted thighs to smooth the pomade along the man's shaft. Harry called out – either in protest or appreciation, Severus couldn't be sure. Harry began breathing raggedly as Severus released his grip of the man's swollen erection. Two hours, he'd been waiting. He could almost imagine the agony.

Severus wiped his hands over the man's arse, leaving the skin there sensitive to touch. He planted a kiss on Harry's exposed tailbone and stood again. He didn't warn the other man before landing the first blow against the round, muscular cheek. Harry gave a tight grunt and recommenced panting just after. Several more slaps landed, peppering the golden skin with little red marks. Severus grabbed the man's arse cheek, rubbing away the sting and causing the plug to shift inside the man. Harry moaned desperately.

Severus came around to stand in front of him, breathless with desire. The very thought of the man sodomising himself with a plug, preparing himself to be fucked stirred an almost feral need to take him. "Sit back," Severus said quietly.

Severus used the crop to urge the man's flushed face upward. His jaw was set as he suffered through the effects of the salve on his cock, the aching need for release. "Undo my trousers," he ordered. Harry's obedience was immediate. His hands slid up Severus' thighs to come together at the fastening, deftly pulling it open. His fingers grazed over Severus' covered erection as they lowered the zip. Surprisingly, the man stopped there, returning his hands to his knees to await further instruction.

"Is it possible you've learnt obedience?" Severus asked, voice laden with amusement. "I swear I never thought I'd see the day," he teased.

Harry gave a cough of a laugh.

"You may take it out," Severus said magnanimously.

Harry raised his hands again, pulling the front of Severus' grey boxers down and encircling his cock in a carefully light grip as he freed it. "Kiss it," Severus ordered on a whisper.

Harry moaned as he raised himself up. His lips parted as his hand pulled back the foreskin, and then slid along the exposed head to come together in a kiss. Severus' hand clenched over the man's dark hair, keeping him there. "If you do a good job, I might let you come before returning to work," he offered.

Harry's tongue came out to swipe at the slit before his lips wrapped around the eager organ. Severus took a step back, causing Harry to strain to reach it. His tongue licked a path around and then his lips returned again to suckle the spit and precome away. When Severus bid the man to look at him, green eyes, blazing with need met his own.

"You were born for this," Severus said breathlessly. There were men who sucked cock as a means to an end. Rarely one came across one who truly enjoyed it. Harry breathed noisily as he descended, unable to take it all in before having to come up to breathe properly, but the experience still paled in comparison to most blow jobs. As Harry came up for air again, Severus moved away, fingers clutching at the man's chin. His thumb swiped over the pink swollen lips.

"Do you want to be fucked?" he asked.

"Please, sir," Harry whispered.

"Summon some lube," Severus ordered.

"You don't need it, sir. Trust me," Harry said with a smile that hinted at the man behind the role he was presently occupying.

Severus raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He walked behind the other man and knelt behind him. He gave the implement a little twist and earned an appreciative shout for his efforts. He pulled it out of the clenching hole and set it aside. The telltale odour of eucalyptus and menthol greeted him. "I suppose I don't need to ask what you used for lube," he said with a smile.

Harry laughed quietly. "I mixed it with some proper lube," he admitted.

Severus pushed his trousers down to his bent knees. His hands grabbed the man's arse cheeks and prised them apart to get a look at the reddened little pucker. He circled it with a thumb.

"God, please," Harry breathed harshly.

Severus took aim, circling his cock around the hole teasingly until those insubordinate hips canted back insistently. Already he could feel the burning tingle against the glans. The contradictory coolness of the air hitting it. He bit his lip and pressed forward, breaching the man with relative ease. As he rocked his hips forward, the heat around his cock increased.

"God that feels amazing," Harry breathed.

Severus could only grunt in agreement. He grabbed the man's hips firmly before driving in. His own hips slapped loudly against the man's arse as he took up a punishing pace. Harry reared back with his every inward thrust to meet him. The sounds they made were animalistic, desperate and growling, and reverberated against the walls.

The two hours he'd been anticipating this had done nothing for his stamina. When he ordered the other man to touch himself, the urgency with which he spoke volumes of how eagerly he'd been looking forward to this. Harry braced himself with one arm as the other worked feverishly over the neglected and hyper-sensitised organ. As Severus reached the summit he called out the spell to release the man, and their voices joined together to herald the end. Harry's voice was pained as the orgasm swelled and broke, again and again. His body jerked from the shock of it.

Severus pulled the man back to sit against his knees. His arms circled around him as he kissed the man's neck, his chin and, in a moment of thoughtlessness, his mouth. Harry grunted in surprise and Severus realised his folly, but it was too late to take it back. "Damn you," he growled as he broke away.

Harry laughed. "I promise I'll take good care of you," he said and then twisted a little further to kiss Severus more soundly.

It was only with great reluctance that Severus returned to work. He put Harry back to bed, dosed him with Pepper-up (with a pre-emptive dose for himself to kill off whatever disease Harry had given him) and then spent the next two and a half hours listening to the various bodily complaints – more or less justified – of his clients. When he bade farewell to Theda, she was closing up shop. She looked at him with an amused smile.

"I thought Harry was sick," she said.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "And what would make you think otherwise?" he inquired stiffly.

Her smile grew to a grin. "He didn't sound sick to me," she said and then laughed.

"Spatula," Severus said firmly, which only made her laugh harder. Severus gave her a quelling look (which had no effect whatsoever) and made a mental note to erect silencing wards in future.

By evening, Harry had developed a cough. Severus rubbed the man down with the anti-congestion mixture, gave him a cough syrup of his own making, set a mist spell over the room to humidify it, and spent a restful evening reading to him from The Vesuvius Club.

He was surprised the next morning when Harry stepped into the shower with him, upsetting his strictly timed morning routine – not that he had a mind to regret it. As he was hurriedly cleaning his teeth, Harry came up behind him with an impish grin and mischief glittering in his eyes. His hand stroked Severus' backside, middle finger parting his arse. Severus' eyebrows went up in panic as he felt the telling icy burn of the menthol slicked over his entrance. A flush came to his face.

"What are you doing?"

"See you at lunch?"

His morning was thus made more interesting with the implicit promise tingling in his backside. By the time Severus returned to the flat, he was driven to distraction with need – literally burning through him. Harry was only too eager to quench that flame, and Severus was buggered for the first time since the last time he was with this man.

It wasn't until he was met with Theda's incredulous look that he realised he'd neglected the silencing spell again.

And so the week went on. All too brief moments of exquisite pleasure broke up the tedium of whingy patients. By Wednesday, Harry was feeling fine with only a residual cough that was easily kept at bay in the nights with Severus' expertise. He spent his time touring the city, returning to the flat whenever Severus had a free moment in his day in order to help him 'pass the time', as he put it.

On Thursday morning, the two men awoke early and ushered in the dawn with relatively tame, but no less satisfying sex. As they were lying there afterward, coming down from their high, Harry took up the small, considerably emptier jar and breathed in the odour. "This is my new favourite scent," he said wryly. Severus couldn't help but agree. He wondered if he'd ever smell eucalyptus in quite the same way again. "Any chance you can brew some of this up for me?" he asked. "It'll make wanking far more interesting until I have some other option," he said with a grin.

Some other option.

It was a careless statement, said in an off-handed way, but it clung to Severus' consciousness as though placed there with a permanent sticking charm. It blazed like neon in his mind all day, taunting him. Of course there would be other options, he reasoned. Of course there would be others. He couldn't very well expect the man to remain unattached indefinitely. He just rather hoped he'd want to, at least until Severus could reason away his guilt over topping himself and witness Harry's future relationships from the safe distance of the afterlife.

Of course, he could only hope that death would give him reprieve from jealousy. Knowing how tenacious the sentiment was, he could imagine seething from the great beyond.

He tried desperately to clear his head of the thought of Harry with someone else. He attempted to concentrate his focus on the time they had left – a little more than a week. A week of beauty and pleasure. His little holiday away from his dark thoughts. When that didn't work, he tried to reason that he didn't want Harry to be alone forever. The man had been living in limbo for the last twenty years. He was finally free to live, to find his happiness. What kind of person would begrudge him that?

Severus wanted Harry to be happy. He just rather wished the man would be happy alone.

The notion of other options followed Severus around like a cartoon thundercloud all day. Severus punished the man properly for having set it there in their afternoon session, but it did nothing to dislodge it.

Harry noticed the darkness surrounding Severus and asked him several times in the course of the day if he was all right. Severus waved away the question and snappishly told the man he would be fine if Harry would only stop asking. Deciding that he didn't really want to spend the evening alone with Harry, the two men attended the book club meeting.

They arrived early in order to eat before the festivities began, which in hindsight may not have been the best idea. As they were looking through the menu, Harry recalled that the spaghetti bolognaise had been very good. Severus sneered, and before he could recall the words, snapped that "There are other options."

Harry's eyebrows went up in surprise at the bitterness in Severus' tone. He gave Severus a long look. Severus could practically see the wheels turning in the man's mind until they drew all the necessary conclusions. "It's the option I prefer," Harry said coldly. "I might have it every day, if it were available."

Severus was thereby silenced. Harry ordered the spaghetti bolognaise, and Severus took the carbonara. The two men ate in resentful silence until the coven members arrived to alleviate the tension. Mary and Theda's arrival was quickly followed by Susan's, and Anna came to join them afterward. Within a few moments, the silent dispute was shelved for later examination.

"How are you feeling, Harry?" Susan asked.

Harry smiled. "Fine, thanks," he said. His voice was rougher than normal, but he'd recovered. "I think I just needed to rest."

Theda laughed incredulously. Harry's face burned red. He laughed nervously and glanced up at Severus. A smirk curled onto Severus' lips. He dropped his gaze to his wine glass. "I'm a lot better," Harry followed.

Confusion and interest filled the air. "Mm-hm," Anna said dubiously.

"Might I congratulate you on a very entertaining book choice," Severus said to Anna, pushing the subject as far away from Harry's convalescence as he could get. "I thoroughly enjoyed it."

"Well, you are Lucifer Box," Anna said with a grin.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "I hardly think I'm as camp as all that."

The women laughed. "You are," Susan said.

"You do have a certain ... flair about you," Harry admitted. "Drama," he continued.

"You are hereby excluded from the conversation," Severus said severely.

"And Harry makes a good Billy," Mary added.

"Billy's dead in the next book," Theda blurted.

The room went quiet a moment. Everyone stared at her. "What?" she said defensively. "He is."

"Anyway," Mary said, rushing away from her daughter's indiscretion. "I think you'd make a great assassin."

Susan's eyes caught Severus' and promptly darted away. Harry grunted in agreement.

"And Harry would make the perfect man-servant," Theda said wryly.

Although Severus couldn't help but agree with the sentiment, the parallels were too close for comfort. "Perhaps we should discuss the book," he suggested. "Independent of your wild fantasies." It was more difficult to castigate the women for their over-active imaginations when one of them knew how very close they were to truth, but Severus would have to get used to it. And Susan would have to get accustomed to playing along. At least until he left.

The night's conversation twisted through various topics. The book discussion turned into a discussion of cinema, which became a discussion of upcoming shows. Severus added to the discussion where he could, and Harry half-listened in a distracted sort of way. He stayed mostly silent, though, and Severus wondered if it was owing to the mistake he'd made with Susan, or if he was rather sulking over their dispute over menu items.

As the evening drew to a close, Susan made a coffee date with Harry for the next morning, and Mary told him to stop by the shop if he was about town. The two men walked home in silence. Severus considered apologising for his folly but was weary of bringing the subject up again, lest it develop into a discussion that he was not ready to have. Harry, for his part, remained just as tight-lipped as Severus.

When they nestled down into the blankets and turned off the light, Harry broke his silence. "I like seeing you with other people," he said. "I like getting to know that side of you. Your social persona. I wonder, if we'd met as adults, if we didn't have all the history between us – In some other alternate dimension, if we would have hit it off."

Severus stroked Harry's arm absently as he thought about it. "You're a beautiful man, Harry. Add to that your dark sense of humour and your affinity for kink, I'd say you have everything required to pique my interest, independent of history."

Harry took his hand and pulled it up to his lips, kissing it. "You forgot to mention that I'm an incredibly charming and powerful wizard," he said cheekily.

"And modest," Severus drawled.

Harry laughed and snuggled closer. "I've added something to the list," he said quietly. "I don't know if you'd go for it."

"I draw the line at anything involving bodily waste," Severus said firmly.

"Damn," Harry whispered. "I was looking forward to that." His tone was dry and the sarcasm clear. "No. Nothing like that. I'd like to ... go out with you. Like, to a pub or a club. We don't have to go anywhere around here. Maybe we could go to Denver, or even somewhere else. I don't really care where it is."

"That's on the list? We've been to a club together," Severus said, puzzled.

"But I want to go as ... mates. I want to see you in action."

Severus' eyes, which had been closed in preparation of sleep, snapped open. "In action," Severus repeated.

"Not in action," he quickly amended. "But you know, flirting. Or whatever it is you do to seduce someone. I want to see that side of you. I'll be crazy jealous by the end of the night, but I reckon it'll make for a good round of angry, punishing sex."

Severus frowned at the suggestion. "Why would you want to see that? Will you be taking notes?" he said, more caustically than he'd intended.

"Don't be an arse," Harry sighed. "I want to see it because it's a part of you I'll never know firsthand. And I'm curious."

"It's been years since I've been on the scene, Harry," Severus argued. "Your estimation of my prowess might be a tad over-inflated."

Harry shrugged against him. "It was just a suggestion," he sighed. "I didn't really think you'd agree." His disappointment was clear. "Night," he said.

Severus frowned into the darkness. It was a stupid suggestion that could only lead to fights, he thought. Not to mention, he was disinclined to desire another when he had a brilliantly creative partner lying next to him. Severus didn't know what to think about the fact that Harry actually wanted to see him with someone else. Part of him wondered if this was not just another ploy to get Severus actively searching again. To re-introduce him to the world of possibility, thereby solidifying his place in the world. It was a cynical thought, but Severus was above all a cynical man.

Of course, Harry was ... well, Harry. His indomitable curiosity defined him. He'd spent a great deal of time over the last years watching his wife do the very thing he was now asking of Severus. He'd developed into a consummate voyeur. But Severus was not Ginevra Weasley. He was not equipped for such an open relationship.

His consideration of the suggestion carried him well past the point where Harry's breathing steadied.

Chapter Text

Severus was not an exhibitionist. It was a point he was trying and failing to get across to his stubborn lover.

"I'm not asking you to fuck anyone, Sev," Harry sighed over lunch the next day.

"Nevertheless, you're asking to observe me in the act of seduction. An act that requires a certain level of inherent dishonesty to which I wouldn't feel comfortable having witnesses," he said vehemently.

"Fine," Harry said. "Don't do it. It's fine."

It wasn't fine. It became less fine the more that wretched word was tossed around. "What on earth do you plan to do while I'm busy leading some poor soul on?"

Harry smiled. "There are two options. One is that I sit under the cloaking charm, unnoticed. The other is that I play a single, gay English tourist and torture you as much as I'll be tortured."

Severus narrowed his eyes. "You will be under the cloaking charm," he said firmly.

Harry laughed. "A little jealousy is healthy, Severus," he said dryly.

"No," Severus insisted. "It isn't. I've so far managed not to do any magic that would rouse the attention of the authorities. I couldn't be held responsible for what I might do to anyone who had the audacity to grope you in my presence."

"You would be safe in the knowledge that I would be leaving with you," Harry pointed out. "Besides, I'm rubbish at flirting anyway. I'll stay under the cloaking spell and I'll give you the distance you need to ... do your thing." Harry gave a hopeful grin.

It was a terrible idea, but one that felt already inevitable. "Not here," Severus said. "We'll go away."

After Severus' final appointment of the day, the two men set off for New York, using the domestic Flooport to travel. Harry had booked two nights at a posh hotel, reasoning that having a weekend alone with Severus outside the chalet warranted the expense. He was practically buzzing with excitement as the yellow cab crawled gradually toward their destination. His forehead pressed to the glass window in an effort to look up at the towering forest of buildings. He'd never seen anything like it. He thought that even if his newest item on the list was left unfulfilled, the trip itself would stand alone as memorable.

It was somewhat surreal getting ready with Severus to go out. They'd been out before, of course, but the last time they got properly kitted out, Harry was wearing someone else's body.

Severus stood in front of the mirror, fastening a pair of serpent cufflinks to his fitted black, high-collared shirt. His trousers were equally fitted, displaying the perfect, gentle curve of his arse perched atop his long legs. Harry watched the man, attempting to see him objectively. He took in the inky black hair that parted in the middle in a curved arch to fall just below his high cheekbones. His impossibly dark eyes stared at Harry's reflection and a wickedly expressive eyebrow raised in question. "You're staring," he said in a voice that vibrated straight to Harry's groin.

Harry had no idea what a stranger might see. Would they be put off by the cruelly hooked nose? Or would they see how it only added to the man's formidable aura?

Harry smiled. "You're stunning," he said with a goofy grin.

"And you're clearly insane," the man countered, but a pleased smile curled onto his lips.

"How do I look?" Harry spread his arms to allow the man to assess the dark grey trousers and the tailored, Slytherin green shirt under a waistcoat that matched the trousers. He'd bought the ensemble that afternoon specifically for the occasion. The amorous shop clerk assured Harry that the trousers made him look taller and showed off his "rear" nicely. It didn't really matter how he looked for anyone else, but he wanted to ensure that Severus would have no problem returning to him at the end of the night.

"Edible," Severus responded decisively. "I propose we stay in."

"Nice try," Harry said blandly. He lifted himself up to capture the man's bottom lip between his teeth. "I'm really looking forward to this," he confided.

Severus stared at him a long moment before shaking his head. "As I said. Insane."

The two men decided on their story. Hadrian would more or less retain his already assumed identity. He was in town for a Naturopathy convention, where he met Harry, who practised in London. Severus reckoned it wouldn't be an interesting enough profession to merit further discussion, but that it would serve its purposes to inspire the target of the game's imagination as to what other talents his hands might have. As they plotted out their roles over drinks at the hotel bar, Severus seemed to grow more at ease with – or at least, more resigned to – what Harry was asking of him.

They established the ground rules, which Harry insisted would make the difference between a successful and titillating night and a complete disaster in the making. He'd had enough experience at this to speak with authority. "A fair amount of touching will be necessary," he insisted reasonably. "Kissing is ok if it comes to that, but your clothes stay on or I'll hex you all the way to Britain." He grinned at the man.

Severus smirked. "There are a number of things I can do with my clothes on," he noted.

"Slytherin," Harry cursed. "Always looking for the loophole."

Severus gave an incredulous look. "Well, I suppose I could blatantly break the rules like you're wont to do, but I rather like having a justified defence," he noted.

"Your bits belong to me," Harry said, spelling out his conditions so as to eliminate any doubt.

Severus laughed. "Of course, we're only discussing the conditions of this evening," he said teasingly.

"I wouldn't press the issue if I were you," Harry said darkly.

Severus smirked. "You're the one whoring me out."

Harry grinned widely. "But you're my whore," he said.

The first club they'd chosen from a list on the internet, they abandoned immediately after doing a check of the Accio! app. It was crawling with flags denoting wizards and witches, and while it might be unlikely that Severus would be recognised, neither man was willing to take that risk. As they arrived at the second club on the list, Harry checked his phone again. There were little pockets of Wizarding presence all over Manhattan, but this club, at least, appeared to be clear. Harry set his phone to alert him if that should change, and they made their way through the queue to get in.

There was a subtle, but startling difference in Severus as he settled into his role. Harry couldn't quite put his finger on the change. He seemed suddenly taller. Bigger. He carried with him an aura of power – not so much in the magical sense. Not exactly. But dangerous, nevertheless. Harry might have thought he was imagining things, but as he watched the men of the club take notice of Severus, he could see their eyes narrow with intrigue. The crowds parted before him, calling to mind the way students had darted out of the man's way when he would stalk down the halls at Hogwarts. Harry could just about see the man's robes billowing behind him.

Harry didn't really think he needed the cloaking charm. Next to Severus, he didn't think anyone would take note of him anyway. He followed in Severus' wake, weaving through the crowds of people who closed in again as the man passed through. As they didn't really see Harry properly, they weren't inclined to move out of his way. When finally he made it to where Severus stood at the bar, he was ever so slightly irritated.

"I want to drop the spell," he shouted into the other man's ear. "It's irritating."

Severus drew back to glare at him. "I draw the line at kissing," he said, not bothering to raise his voice. His lips brushed the shell of Harry's ear, sending a violent shiver down his spine.

Harry laughed and nodded his agreement before cancelling the spell. One of four bartenders behind the bar took note of Severus and came over with an expectant look. Severus' gaze was steady as he met the young man's eyes. A small smirk was fixed on his mouth. The bartender lowered his eyes almost reflexively. "A dry Blue Sapphire martini, dirty." Severus' voice seemed to rise effortlessly above the music, making Harry wonder if he was doing some magic Harry couldn't detect. The boy scurried off to fulfil Severus' request.

"How do you do that?" Harry asked.

"Do what?"

"Make your voice carry like that," he said.

Severus looked at him as though he had no idea what Harry was on about. Harry shrugged and put it down to yet another thing that made Severus unique. When the bartender returned with Severus' drink, he finally took notice of Harry and gave him a friendly smile. "What can I get for you?"

"Bacardi and Coke," Harry ordered.

"Do you two know each other?" the boy asked, nodding toward Severus but not quite looking at the man.

Harry nodded and glanced over at the man who'd turned his back to the bar and was now gazing at the crowd. "He's just a mate," Harry said.

The man laughed and inexplicably repeated the word "mate," before sliding Harry's drink across to him. Harry paid the dear price requested for the drink and the barman moved to another waiting customer. "You intimidate the hell out of people," Harry shouted toward Severus.

Severus laughed. "It's part of my charm," he said. Harry suspected the man was right. "There are three types of people, Harry. Those who are intimidated, those who are threatened and those who are intrigued. The latter is a comparatively small group," he said.

"I suppose I'm one of the lucky few," Harry said.

Severus snorted and turned a smile on him. "You are unique," he said. "And this exercise of yours will be doomed to failure if I'm around you all night. Go on and bugger off to some dark corner and leave me to prey on some poor, unsuspecting stranger for your entertainment."

Harry laughed. "You make it sound so cruel," he said reproachfully.

Severus gave him a look that suggested maybe the game was a little cruel. In the absence of a justifiable argument to the contrary, Harry tapped his glass against Severus and went to find a dark corner that still afforded him a view of the bar. In Britain, he might have sent a suggestion to the occupants of a table that they might need the loo in order to gain a seat, but he couldn't be sure how strict the American authorities were on magical suggestion spells. He felt fairly certain that if he didn't use his wand, his "signature", as it were, would not be recognisable, but he didn't think he should risk it. He cast a quick repelling charm on a chair at a high table, and its occupant quickly vacated it.

From this position, Harry had a view of both the bar and the dance floor. His eyes wandered across the undulating mass of people. This was what he normally did at clubs. He enjoyed watching people dancing, marvelling in the easy way they moved with the music. He'd never been so graceful. Haytham had told him once that he only lacked the right partner. Harry thought it was more likely that he lacked a natural sense of rhythm.

Harry's eyes cast back to where Severus stood at the bar. A blond man, in his early forties, if Harry were to judge, stood making conversation while the barman filled his order. Severus nodded and gave a tight, polite smile, but it was clear that he wasn't interested. His eyes flickered across the room and took on a focussed look. Harry tried to follow his line of sight and fell on a man, in his early thirties, who was part of a group of people. He had white blond hair that made Harry think of Draco Malfoy. He wore a sinfully tight t-shirt. A black leather band wrapped tightly around his neck, from which dangled a round pendant of some sort. The man looked up and, Harry knew, right at Severus.

This was what he wanted, he tried to tell the territorial stirring in his gut. This was the reason they were here. Harry looked again at Severus, whose attention had been pulled back to the man next to him, now holding three glasses. Severus said something, and the man laughed before walking toward a table near Harry. When Harry's eyes turned back to Severus, he was walking toward the dance floor. He stood at the rail that bordered it, his back to Harry, and watched the crowd.

"Are you waiting for someone?" a voice shouted into his ear. Harry turned to a man behind him, his hand, poised on the back of the empty chair beside him.

"No. Go ahead," Harry said, gesturing for the man to take the stool.

"Ugh, thank God," the man said, sighing dramatically as he took the seat. He took a sip of his colourless drink through a skinny straw. He set his drink down and pushed his dark hair, which had plastered itself to his forehead, back. "I feel like I've been dancing for hours," the man said. His teeth were blindingly white when he smiled.

Harry smiled back and turned back to see Severus talking to the Draco lookalike. Harry could see now that he wore a pair of skin tight red jeans that had zips placed randomly down the legs. A pair of combat boots laced up to his knees. Who the hell wore red trousers?

"Are you here alone?" his neighbour asked.

Harry took a breath to still the hatred and turned to the man. "Not exactly. I came with a colleague. He's ... busy," he said deliberately not clenching his teeth.

"You're not from New York," the man said.

Harry shook his head. "I live in London. I'm here for a conference."

"Oh my god, I love London," the man exclaimed enthusiastically. Harry gave him an amused smile. "I'm Juan, by the way." He stuck out a slender hand.


"You're cute, Harry. What do you do?"

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Erm... nothing terribly interesting. What do you do?"

"I'm an actor ... so, I wait tables like all the other actors." He rubbed his forehead delicately and made a face. "I hate sweating," he complained.

"Perhaps you should give up dancing," Harry said with a grin.

"I love to dance more than I hate sweating," Juan said with a giggle. "Why aren't you dancing?"

"It's best if I don't," Harry said. "Safer for everyone, really."

His eyes cast back to where Severus stood conferring with that man. His head was bent slightly forward as he listened to what the man had to say, but not so much that the man didn't have to lean close to him to be heard. The blonde's hand rested on Severus' shoulder. Severus suddenly straightened up and nodded. The man's face broke out into a grin. He turned his back to Severus, and it suddenly occurred to Harry what Severus had agreed to when Severus' hands went to the man's waist.


Harry blinked and turned toward Juan, who'd clearly asked him something. "Sorry?" he said.

"How long are you here for?"

"I go back on Sunday," Harry said distractedly.

"Who are you looking at?"

"No one," he said, forcing a smile. "My colleague. It would appear he's giving free consultation," Harry said, eyes returning to where the man was moving at Severus' urging. His arse jutting back coyly as he bent forward. Harry loathed him.

"Oh. That's Ryan," the man next to him said. "He's a freak."

"A freak?" Harry asked, eager to hear anything bad about the man.

Juan nodded sagely. "S&M. He does shows. You know, gets tied up and beaten for the enjoyment of others."

Harry lips pressed into a white line. He gave a dismayed grunt and turned back to see Severus' head bent forward to speak into the man's ear, his hand had circled around to lie against the man's belly.

"Wow, are you sure he's just your colleague?"

Harry laughed. "I've only just met him, actually," Harry lied, going along with the story they'd prepared.

"You like him," Juan guessed.

"He intrigues me," Harry answered.

"You intrigue me," Juan said flirtatiously.

Harry snorted. "There's a difference between being attracted to someone and being intrigued by them," Harry pointed out. "It's the difference between wanting to shag them and wanting to take them apart and see what makes them tick. Hadrian is an intriguing man."

"So, you don't want to shag him?" Juan challenged.

Harry lowered his eyes and grinned. "I wouldn't say that," he said. "I have a feeling it would be memorable."

Juan looked at the couple thoughtfully and shrugged. "I don't know. If he's into Ryan, he's probably a freak, too. And he's got a huge nose," the man said.

Harry sighed and nodded. But he was Harry's huge-nosed freak. The thought cheered him considerably. In fact, he was quite looking forward to seeing the disappointment on Draco's face when nothing came of the night.

"Well, you can't just sit here staring at him all night. You should come and dance with me," he said.

"I told you, I don't dance. Two left feet. Really," Harry argued as his hands were tugged by the small, but insistent man.

"Then come and watch me dance," the man said with a grin.

Harry let himself be tugged toward the dance floor. His eyes went to where Severus had been standing moments before. He was no longer there. He stopped dead at the edge of the dance floor and watched his new acquaintance prance on into the crowd, smiling back at him. Harry's eyes scanned all the dark corners of the room, narrowing dangerously. His heart beat a panicked rhythm against his chest. His stomach churned with suspicious anger.

All of which was frankly ridiculous. This had been his idea. He'd wanted to see Severus in this context. He wanted to see how people reacted to the man. From all that he'd gathered, Hadrian Prince had quite the reputation, and Harry wanted to see the legend at work. It was a side of Severus that Harry wouldn't otherwise know.

God, what had he been thinking?

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, stilling his mind as Severus had taught him to do so long ago. It was automatic now. There was no longer any need to do deep breathing exercises for twenty minutes before coming to a peaceful state of mind. He emptied his mind as easily as he could empty a glass.

And then he felt it. A tickle of awareness. Harry turned his head, his eyes snapping open, followed by his jaw dropping open. Severus didn't dance. Harry specifically recalled Severus himself telling him that, and yet the evidence to the contrary was before his very eyes. Severus didn't dance so much as sway along with the writhing and rutting movements of the man in front of him. His eyes were focussed on the man who, Harry thought, was sexy in a way he could never achieve.

It occurred to him, watching the scene, what it was about Severus that made him both intimidating and captivating. It was his eyes. It was the steadiness of his gaze that could look at you and make you feel like you're the only one in the universe. Most people's eyes were expressive. They darted around as people spoke adding meaning to their words. Severus' eyes were hypnotic. Dark and intense.

Those eyes shifted now to stare directly at Harry. Harry stared back. The corner of Severus' mouth curled up and his eyebrow lifted as though to say, Are you happy now? The blond man – Ryan, Harry recalled – turned to see what had captured his dance partner's attention. When he turned back, Severus' eyes had returned to him. Their dancing slowed as they pressed close to have a conversation. Ryan threw his head back and laughed, before breaking away from Severus. He darted off the dance floor, and Severus started toward Harry.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" he said, standing maddeningly close.

"You had to choose Draco Malfoy, didn't you," Harry said irritably.

Severus blinked in confusion. "Draco Malfoy?" His laughter rose over the music. "He's nothing like Draco Malfoy."

"He's ... blond."

"I suspect he's not blond everywhere," Severus said with a smirk. "And he's also not a privileged, arrogant, little fool," he said further. "I never thought I'd say this, but your jealousy becomes you."

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Fuck off," he said without conviction.

"I saw you met someone," Severus asked, fingers coming up to push a strand of hair out of Harry's eyes.

If he were honest, he hadn't realised that Severus had noticed him at all. He felt slightly better knowing that he was being watched as well. "He wasn't exactly my type."

"I didn't say I was worried," Severus said smugly.

Harry gave him a resentful look, and then laughed at his own ridiculousness. "This was a terrible idea," he admitted. "Thanks for going along with it, but you didn't have to do it quite so well."

Severus laughed and brought his fingers under Harry's chin. "I aim to please," he said, his thumb sliding over Harry's bottom lip.

"I thought you didn't dance."

Severus raised his eyebrows. "What made you think that?"

"You told me that one night when we went to the club in Switzerland. You said you didn't dance."

"Ah," Severus said. "I was perhaps imprecise. I don't dance alone, and I don't dance for the sake of dancing. But of course I dance. I'm a gay man." Severus gave him a teasing smile.

Harry curled his nose and looked over the crowd. He shook his head. "That part of my gay side is broken," he said desolately. "I'd love to be able to dance, but I'm rubbish at it."

Severus gave him a long look and shook his head. "You are an incredible lover, Harry. Dancing is an extension of that. You may never be a professional dancer, but you can dance," he insisted.

Harry snorted and shook his head. He was about to insist that he'd already given up trying, when the blonde returned.

"Okay," he said, as though he were just extending an already established conversation. "So, here's the flier, and I've written the invitation on the back. You shouldn't have any problems getting in, but I have my cell down just in case," he said to Severus, hanging over a leaf of glossy paper announcing something or another.

"Ryan, this is Harry," Severus said. "My foolish lover," he finished.

Harry's eyes widened. His mouth dropped open. So much for sticking to the story, he thought irritably. He now had a hard time looking at the man as he was too busy glaring at Severus.

Ryan laughed. "It's cool. Jealousy is a power aphrodisiac," he said wisely. "You're a lucky boy," he told Harry. "Gay, male doms are a rare commodity," he said, and then smiled hopefully at Severus. "So you'll come?"

"I'll have to discuss it with Harry, but we will make an effort."

"Fantastic." He gave Harry a sly look, his mouth curling wickedly. Harry couldn't help but drop his eyes, taking in the beautifully formed muscles clear under the man's shirt. Harry had to suppress a strong urge to touch the man. Ryan leant in. "If you two want some company while you're here, you have my number," he said and pulled back with a cat-like grin. "Have fun," he shouted at both before walking off.

"I hate him," Harry said, although the stirring in his trousers told another story. His eyes followed the man's retreat. He wondered how one became so effortlessly sexy. Was it something one was born with? Looking at Severus and recalling how very unsexy the man had been as a teenager, Harry didn't think so. "What was that all about? And I can't believe you told him!" Harry added indignantly as an afterthought. The man must think him a total idiot.

Severus laughed and closed the distance between them so that Harry had to look up to see the amused expression on the man's face. "If there is one crime I have not committed, Harry, it is the crime of leading people on. There's a fetish show tomorrow. If we want to go, Ryan has offered free admission in exchange for some adjustment work on his back." Severus shrugged. "We don't have to go," he said.

"Hm," Harry grunted. The idea of a going to a fetish show tickled his interest. He'd been to countless over the years, and they were never dull. The idea of going to one with Severus was nearly irresistible, apart from the fact that he would have to touch Ryan to get in. The image of Severus touching Ryan was both incredibly sexy and positively irritating.

"Come on," Severus said, taking Harry's hand. Harry expected to be led from the club, but instead was pulled toward the dance floor.

His feet stopped. "No," Harry said. There was no way he was going to dance. There was no way he was going to make an arse of himself in front of Ryan. A bigger arse than he'd already made himself.

"I insist," Severus said, narrowing his eyes. He tugged again, and Harry stepped forward and stopped.

"I can't," he protested.

Severus stopped pulling and stared at him calmly. "Please," he said in a tone that suggested it pained him to say the word out loud. "Dance with me."

Harry's pleading expression faded under the warmth of that gaze. The magic of the word 'please' from lips that did not readily plead for anything, worked on him. He sighed heavily and let himself be pulled to the middle of the crowd without resisting. Severus pulled him close.

"You're better off dancing with Ryan," Harry said, with no hint of the resentfulness he felt.

Severus shook his head. "I want to dance with you," he insisted. His head bowed low to reach Harry's ear. His hand slipped behind Harry to rest in the curve of his lower back, long fingers extending down to his arse. One leg came forward, just pressing between Harry's. "Don't think about the music," he said in a low voice. "Relax and move with me."

Severus grabbed Harry's hand and led it to his shoulder. "This is hopeless, you know," Harry said. Severus began to move, rocking back and forth between his feet, holding Harry so close that Harry had no choice but to follow the movements. The beat of the music felt discordant. They were moving too slowly, and Harry's feet tried to rebel, tried to get caught up with the rhythm.

"Forget the music," Severus insisted.

"How can you forget the music? You're dancing," Harry growled in frustration.

"No, I'm fucking you with my clothes on." The richness of his voice was far more enticing than the music and moved Harry in far more powerful ways.

Harry's laugh cut off when Severus slipped his hand a little lower. A long finger balanced over his tailbone and pressed inward. "I prefer you to fuck me with your clothes off," Harry said breathlessly.

Severus turned his head and kissed him hard. Powerful lips parted Harry's, and a clever tongue swept forward to taste him. Harry melted against him, hand curling behind the back of Severus' head. Sod dancing, this is what he wanted. He fancied he could feel the envious eyes of hundreds of men at his back, wishing they could be so lucky; wondering what it was about Harry that could capture this impressive man's attention.

A small voice inside Harry's head wondered the same. Having seen the competition, having seen the way Severus' tastes lay, it was difficult to determine if, had the two not had history and isolation going for them, Severus would be interested in him at all.

He pushed the thought away, telling himself it was irrelevant, and concentrated on the kiss, on the subtle pressure of a thigh, guiding his hips side to side even as a hand on his backside urged them to rock forward. Harry's senses widened and suddenly their movements made a certain sense. They were in time with the music if not matching the beat exactly.

Harry was dancing.

Severus broke away to stare down at him heatedly. Harry looked up and was lost in the warm dark tunnels. They were the only two people in the world in that moment. The bodies surrounding them smudged into inconsequential blurs that throbbed faintly with the beat. Harry grinned, and Severus looked at him with something that could only be described as love. Harry recognised the sentiment behind the expression because it was what he felt every time he laid eyes on this man.

Severus' eyes shifted and hardened slightly. His mouth curved into a smirk.

The man had a whole arsenal of smirks. There was the gentle curl of an amused smirk, the wicked quirking of his lips that spoke of dark, sexy thoughts. The dreaded smirk he wore – cruel and cold – just before he said something scathing and hurtful. The smirk he now wore was somewhat different. It held a caution and a sort of conditional permission. It was an expression that held a hint of menace.

Harry twisted around to see Dra - Ryan standing behind him. The man wore a disarming smile as he stepped close. Harry stopped dancing and turned, irritation streaking through him at the interruption. Ryan reached past Harry to lay a hand on Severus' shoulder. His other hand lay gently on Harry's hip.

"Hi again," he said. His leg slipped forward, his hips coming flush against Harry's.

The words "piss off" died in Harry's throat as Severus' teeth scraped against his neck. His breath left him in a tight, "Ah." He could feel Severus, hot and hard against the small of his back. Severus' hips took up a grinding rhythm, which Ryan countered. Harry stood trapped and befuddled in between. With a relaxing breath, Harry let his head fall back against Severus as his hand stole behind to hold at Severus' arse. His other hand was posed against Ryan's chest like a warning. His fingers brushed the silver disk that dangled at Ryan's throat, brandishing a stylised 'M'.

Ryan stepped closer still, forcing Harry's arm out the way. Harry breathed in the smell of the man – warm and sweet – and went dizzy from the closeness. Ryan was only an inch or two taller than Harry, and his hips met Harry's perfectly. Harry could feel Ryan swell against him. He thought he should be more bothered by it than he actually was.

They didn't dance. They engaged in an enactment of fantasy, moving deliberately, each thrust and slide of hips driven with purpose. Harry had never been fond of the idea of threesomes. The additional set of body parts seemed to add a layer of unnecessary complication to an otherwise simple hedonistic pursuit. His one attempt at it had left him paralysed with uncertainty.

At the moment, he was trying to recall just why that was. The feeling of the man behind him, the strong fingers gripping his hip bone seemed to ground him. They reassured the panicked flutter of his heart. Ryan's lips were on his neck. Teeth scraped the skin, dragging up to his jaw and then disappearing abruptly. Harry opened his eyes to see Severus' fingers clenching over the man's jaw. Ryan's eyes were lowered in submission. Harry twisted around to see the look of warning in Severus' eyes. He laughed at the absurdity of it and then reached up to pull Severus down into an awkward kiss.

"Looks like you're not the only one who's possessive," Ryan said into his ear. Harry grinned against Severus' mouth. He pulled away and opened his eyes to see the dark smirk of irony gracing the just-kissed lips.

Harry slipped out from between the two men and stepped behind Ryan, pulling Severus forward to press the man between them. Ryan's hips didn't seem to miss a beat. He ground his arse back against Harry's crotch. Harry reached up to pull Severus into a far more satisfying kiss over the man's shoulder. Ryan's head tilted back to lean against Harry's shoulder.

"Kiss him," Harry instructed the man. He found Ryan's immediate obedience gratifying. Severus' eyes opened to meet Harry's even as his mouth was plundered by the blond – not at all Malfoy-like – man. The dark eyes glittered with amusement a mere second before slipping closed again. Harry watched, spellbound, as the kiss progressed. Flashes of tongues twisting, the white of teeth hungrily biting. Jealousy was forgotten in the admiration of the sheer beauty of the show. Harry leant in to press his lips to the gentle curve of Ryan's neck. Ryan's hand reached around to squeeze Harry's arse.

When the kiss broke, Ryan swore an incomprehensible oath. "I need to cool down," he said. The three men stopped moving as though some enchantment had suddenly broken. "Shall we get drinks?"

Harry's eyes met Severus'. His mouth curved into a smirk of his own, inciting Severus to grin. "Drinks," Harry repeated agreeably.

Severus and Ryan disappeared to the bar as Harry vacated a round table in the far corner. "Wow, how did you manage to get a table?" Ryan exclaimed when the two returned and slid into the booth on either side of Harry.

Harry and Severus exchanged looks. "I'm a very lucky man," Harry said cheekily.

"I trust you didn't do anything illegal," Severus said against his ear.

"Not unless charming furniture is illegal," Harry answered.

Severus gave a satisfied nod. Harry took a sip from his drink.

"How long have you guys been together?" Ryan asked.

Harry stared into his drink. "We've known each other a long time," Severus answered for both of them.

"I live in Britain," Harry explained. "We don't get together very often."

Ryan looked flummoxed by the news. "You're not a couple?"

Harry laughed and glanced over at Severus with a smug expression. "But for geography," he said dryly. Severus gave him a bland look before pulling his head over to kiss the top of it. The simple, familiar gesture made Harry's heart beat a little faster. He looked over to see Ryan watching them.

"What's the M stand for?" Harry asked, lifting the silver disk from the base of the man's throat.

Ryan's fingers closed over it protectively. "Madeleine," he said. "My mistress." He appeared satisfied at Harry's incredulous expression.

"Mistress? So you're bi?"

Ryan shook his head. "No. I'm a sub," he said. "For me, it sort of transcends sexuality. Left to my own devices, I'm as queer as they come, but I'll lick the boots of anyone worthy – whether they're stiletto boots or not." He laughed. Given Harry's sexual relationship with Ginny, he thought he could relate. "You should really come tomorrow. Madeleine would love you, and you'll get to see me get tied up and tortured." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

The words inspired a stunning image. Harry thought the man might look beautiful twisted into the concentrated grimace of one who is pushed to the limits of what they're capable of withstanding. "Nice," he breathed and turned to gauge Severus' level of interest. Severus raised an eyebrow in response. Harry shrugged. "Sounds like fun," he said decisively.

He heard Severus grunt in amusement. "I'll be back," the man said. "I expect the two of you to behave yourselves." The look he gave was not quite teasing. He disappeared toward the loos.

"So what's your story anyway? You two kiss like you've just met, but you've known each other for years. You're not a couple, but he practically growls if I come anywhere near you."

Harry snorted and took another drink from his glass. "It's complicated," he said. "We're complicated."

"You're hot," the man said with a grin. "Why did you want to see him with someone else?"

It was a fair question, Harry supposed. The man had been the unwilling pawn in their game, after all. "Curiosity," Harry explained. "I've known him since I was a kid. I know who he was then. I get glimpses of who he is over here and I suppose I just wanted to flesh out that version of him a bit." Harry shrugged and gave a sheepish laugh. "It sort of backfired. I knew I'd be jealous, but I wasn't prepared at just how jealous I could be."

"Hm," Ryan agreed. "If looks could kill."

"I got over it," Harry said defensively.

Ryan laughed. "He's a good kisser. I figured he would be," Ryan said with a grin. "One down. One to go."

Harry could feel his face heat up. He beamed at his drink. "I think you'll find I'm slightly more tolerant than he is." His attention became keenly focussed on the hand that stole over to lie against his thigh. He looked up to scan the room for Severus.

"Ready to dance again?" Ryan asked.

"I don't dance," Harry said.

"You were just dancing," Ryan pointed out.

Harry shook his head. "You were dancing. Hadrian was dancing. I was the one getting off in the middle."

Ryan slumped against the back of the booth and threw his head back to stare at the ceiling. "God, you guys have to take me home with you. Even if you just tie me up in a corner and let me watch."

Harry laughed. "Hadrian isn't an exhibitionist – as he's reminded me several times over the past twenty-four hours." Harry wasn't much of an exhibitionist either, for that matter, but the proposal had its merits.

"Hadrian will do what you ask him to. He wears your collar just as much as you wear his. The man looks at you like ... wow, I don't even know. Like you're the embodiment of his every desire."

A grin stretched widely across Harry's face. "You think?"

"Seriously?" Are you blind?" he said incredulously.

Harry laughed. "It's good to get an outsider's perspective. I wouldn't tell him you noticed. He might stop."

Ryan gave Harry a doubtful look. His gaze shifted, and he put his hands up as though to declare his innocence. Harry looked over to see Severus approaching with an amused expression. He slid in beside Harry and Harry leant against him. "What did I miss?"

Ryan's eyes met Harry's. "We were just discussing the advantages of wearing someone's collar," he said with an amused smile. Harry rolled his eyes and snorted. "I'll be right back," the blond man declared. "Talk amongst yourselves."

After watching the other man go, Harry conceded, "You're right. He's nothing like Malfoy."

"Hm." Severus' fingers trailed along Harry's jaw. "You like him," he said.

Harry shrugged. "He's friendly," he said with a grin. "Do you like him?"

Severus leaned in to kiss him softly, holding Harry's chin in place with an index finger. "You're avoiding the question," Harry said against the man's mouth.

"I make it a point not to answer loaded questions," Severus said, lips curling in amusement.

"If you were on your own, would you take him home?" Harry asked.

Severus laughed. "What do you think?"

"I think you want to shag him."

"I think I want to shag you," Severus answered, leaning in to capture Harry's mouth again. "The sooner, the better," he added.

"I liked watching you kiss him," Harry confessed, hand slipping over to press against the man through his trousers.

"That's because you're a dirty little voyeur," Severus growled into his ear.

"Hm." It seemed pointless to deny it. "He wants to go back to the hotel with us," Harry said, pulling back to judge Severus' receptiveness.

"You don't say," Severus said dryly. "Is this on your list?"

Harry sniggered. "It wasn't an hour ago," he said. "It might be now."

"I thought you didn't do threesomes."

"I don't dance either."

"I wouldn't want you to have performance issues," Severus said.

Harry glared. "Somehow I don't think it will be a problem," he said. "Have you ever done it?" Severus shook his head, and then laughed at the grin that spread across Harry's face. "Do you want to?"

The intensity in the man's eyes made Harry's heart speed up. "Go and find your toy," Severus said. "I'll hail a cab."

A burst of excitement exploded in Harry's chest. Severus snorted and gave him an exasperated look. The two men slid out of the booth. Severus headed for the door, and Harry scanned the club in the direction he'd seen Ryan disappear. He spotted the other man on the other side of the dance floor, standing at the end of the table, laughing at something someone in his group of friends said. As Harry approached, a pretty young woman smiled up at him. He put his hand on Ryan's hip and leant in to ask, "Coming?"

He could see an echo of the same excitement he'd felt flash in the other man's eyes. "Hell, yeah."

Harry laughed and started toward the door, knowing instinctively the other man was following. Severus waited with Harry's coat. Ryan asked for his own and shouldered the rucksack that was returned to him.

All three men were quiet as they piled into the cab. Harry sat in the middle and gave the cabby the address to the hotel before closing the plastic partition between the front and the back.

"Are there any limitations we should know about?" Severus asked, clearly addressing Ryan.

"I can't come," Ryan answered. "And no lasting marks. Mistress will skin me alive tomorrow if her canvas isn't blank." He offered a sheepish grin.

"You can't come?" Harry asked incredulously. What was the point? Harry wanted to ask, but didn't. He glanced at Severus who wore a satisfied smile.

"I have to save it for the show," Ryan explained. "Water sports are fine, but I don't do scat."

"I do neither," Severus answered. "While I don't suspect we'll be doing anything to merit it tonight, what is your safe word?"

"Banana," Ryan offered.

Harry listened with a detached sort of interest. This was Hadrian, he realised. He was getting a good picture of what the man's encounters must have been like. He and Severus had never really had this conversation. Their relationship was far more casual. They had their list and added to it whenever something else occurred to them. Severus had yet to do anything that Harry disliked. While they'd decided on "snitch" as a safe word years ago, they had never needed it.

"You answer to me," Severus told the man.

Harry glanced over with a half-hearted glare. "I thought he was my toy," he joked.

Severus offered a smirk in response. "And if you're very good, I might let you have a play," he responded.

"And if I'm very, very bad?" Harry asked with a deceptively innocent expression.

Ryan laughed loudly at Harry's impertinence.

"Then Ryan won't be the only one not coming tonight," Severus said darkly.

Harry sniggered. He gave the man the impertinent look of one fully capable of wandless magic and ensuring that whatever punishment Severus doled out, he would receive in kind. His hand stole over to brush the hard lump in Severus' trousers. Severus grabbed his hand and nailed him with a warning glare. "I wouldn't if I were you," he said.

It was a dare if Harry had ever heard one, and for a second he considered putting the constricting spell on just to spite the man. Harry offered his best charming smile and leant in to kiss the man's grim mouth. Severus released his hand and aimed a smile out the window of the taxi.

The rest of the cab ride was relatively silent. Harry was already beginning to fret about wanting to ensure that Ryan felt included, but not wanting to irritate Severus too much. He decided against touching either of them for the time being and then worried that the excitement that had coloured the last hour would irreparably wane. By the time they arrived at the hotel, Harry was well and truly anxious.

The three men entered the junior suite. Ryan dropped his bag in the corner and said, "Nice." A king size bed dominated the centre of the room. On the far wall, curtained windows looked out into the windows of surrounding skyscrapers. A small sitting area in front of the windows contained a two-seater sofa and a small round coffee table displaying promotional magazines.

Harry removed his shoes and socks and waited awkwardly for a hint of what he was meant to do next. Severus lined his shoes next to Harry's and turned to him, pushing his hair back from his forehead with the smuggest smirk imaginable. Severus was well aware of Harry's discomfort and found it amusing. Harry glared up at the man, and then grinned. "Prat."

"Hm," he said, eyes glittering with laughter. "Go and move that table aside," he instructed. Harry was so pleased to have been given something to do that he didn't think to argue. He went over to push the table against the wall and closed the curtains. He turned back to see Ryan leaning against the desk. Severus was in the loo.

Harry met Ryan's eyes with what he hoped looked like a reassuring smile. "Have you done this before?"

Ryan nodded and walked over to where Harry stood. "A few times. You?"

"I tried it once," Harry confessed. "Years ago. With women. It was disastrous."

Ryan lifted his hand to push Harry's hair back. "I'm happy to watch," he said quietly. His fingers stroked the back of Harry's neck. Harry reached forward to graze the smooth, warm material covering the man's tight stomach.

"Because you can't come?" he asked.

Ryan laughed. It was a soft, tinkling sound "Because you guys are hot," he answered, nose slipping up Harry's throat. The sound of a jar being slammed onto the desk startled them. Ryan jumped away and lowered his eyes to the floor. Harry gave Severus a slightly annoyed look, meeting the man's warning glare.

Severus walked over to stand near to them. "Mr Potter belongs to me. Is that clear?" Severus said. A shiver ran up Harry's spine. He couldn't decide if it was because of the words or the Professor Snape tone of his most depraved fantasies.

"Yes, master."

"Sir," Severus corrected.

"Yes, sir."

"You will touch him at my invitation only. When I say. How I say. Or you will be delivered back to your mistress with stripes enough to make a zebra envious."

"Yes, sir," Ryan answered dutifully.

Severus relaxed. He stroked the man's flushed cheek. "Good boy," he said, in a voice that Harry wanted to wrap around himself like a warm blanket. "I'm counting on you, Ryan, to be a good role model for Harry. To demonstrate what true submission looks like." His thumb tipped between Ryan's pliant lips. "He's rebellious. He will do everything he can to lure you in to his rebellion. To provoke you. I'm counting on you to help me teach him discipline."

"It will be my pleasure, sir."

Harry laughed and tried to suppress the grin away. Severus studiously ignored him. He went to sit on the sofa, one arm raised to rest on the back. "Undress him, Harry," he said. "Try not to get distracted," he added in an amused tone.

Harry tugged Ryan over to stand sideways in front of Severus. He might have made an attempt at a submissive role, but Severus had set the stage for the role he was expected to play – an intractable, rebellious man who needed to be taught obedience. He could admit to himself that it wasn't such a stretch.

He slid his fingers under the tight, smooth fabric and peeled it upward. Ryan's arms lifted compliantly as his hairless, golden brown torso was revealed. Pale pink nipples stared out with shiny silver rings through them. Harry pulled the shirt off, tossing it to the side. He gave into the impulse to run his fingers over the carved contours of muscle. His eyes met Ryan's greyish-blue stare, as his fingertips tugged gently at the rings of his nipples. Ryan gave the smallest of shivers.

"Slap him, Ryan."

A stinging slap struck his face before Harry could register the order. Harry bit his lips, which struggled to pull into a grin. His trousers tightened in anticipation of the punishment to come, even as his hands moved compliantly to finish the task at hand.

Harry pulled the black leather of the metal-studded belt free before dropping to his knees. His head flicked to the side to urge away the lock of hair in his eyes. He pinched the trouser waistband, and the button popped free. Harry looked up and offered a cheeky smile at the (far too submissive, really) man. His fingers pressed deliberately as he slid the zip slowly downward, wanting nothing more than to see the man falter. He wasn't quite disappointed by the challenge the man continued to face. He urged the stretchy red denim fabric down over the man's arse and then tugged the cuffs over one foot and then the other, leaving the man in a tight black thong, his erection contained in a bulging stretch of fabric that Harry couldn't help but nuzzle.

"Ryan," Severus said.

As if on cue, Ryan's hand wrenched Harry's head back by his hair, and another blow landed on the opposite cheek. A frustrated laugh bubbled out from Harry's chest. He could see the man struggle to keep his own humour in check.

"Incorrigible, isn't he?" Severus said darkly.

"He is, sir."

Harry gave the man his most charming grin before hooking his fingers under the thin strip of black fabric, yanking downward. A long, slender erection bobbed forward. The exposed helmet swayed teasingly in front of Harry's face.

"Kiss his feet, Harry. Show some respect for your betters."

Harry did as he was told, bending down to press his forehead to a long, bony foot and then sliding his lips over it.

"You should know that you have arguably one of the most powerful men in Britain at your feet. You won't have heard of him, but let me assure you that there would be many who would pay dearly to be in your place. To have this man at their mercy."

Harry groaned in protest and shot the man an annoyed look. Severus met it with a raised eyebrow, daring him to deny it. "Stand up, Harry. Ryan is going to demonstrate how to do this properly."

Harry stood and faced Severus, eyes narrowed to express his displeasure at the Great Harry Potter routine. Severus merely smiled at him, eyes intense as he watched the other man divest Harry of his clothes without any deviation from purpose. Ryan had his back to Severus, who could see nothing of the man's heated expression. Harry turned his attention to Ryan, fixing him with a steady gaze.

Severus stood as Harry stepped out of his trousers and kicked them to the side. He went to the desk to fetch the small jar with which Harry had become well-acquainted during this visit, before going to Ryan and stroking the man's head. Severus leant in to bestow a kiss on the full, pink mouth. "Nicely done. Get him on all fours and prepare his tight arse with this. A pea-size amount will do. I'm going to try and find something that might serve to restrain him while you and I get better acquainted."

"Yes, sir," Ryan said, slightly breathlessly.

"It's his voice, right?" Harry whispered as Severus went to where their bags were stored. They had brought no Muggle restraints, as they'd not really planned on needing them. Ryan ignored his attempt to engage him and said in a flat, firm tone. "Quiet. Get on your knees, forehead to the floor and ass in the air."

Harry suppressed the urge to make a face and obeyed. Once he was in position, Ryan knelt behind him. The powerful scent of exquisite torment filled the air as the cap came off. Ryan grunted with what sounded to be surprise. "Grab your cheeks, whore," the man said in a surprisingly authoritative voice. "Spread them for me."

It was one thing to be verbally abused by Severus. Harry was accustomed to it and welcomed it. Having a stranger – a man who could not possibly appreciate the irony – calling him whore set Harry in a downward spiral of degradation. He hesitated, wanting very much to rebel.

"You really are useless at this," Ryan said in a low voice. "What good's a slut who doesn't do as he's told?" Ryan's hand smoothed over his backside, thumbs parting Harry's cheeks enough to stroke over his hole. Harry's cock was rock hard and twitched against nothing.

"How are things coming along?" Severus asked.

"He's very stubborn, sir."

"You have no idea," Severus said. "But if he wants my attentions, he'll do as he's told. That's a lovely belt you have, Ryan. Perhaps Harry needs a bit of persuasion."

"Yes, sir."

Ryan moved away, and Harry could hear the clink of the buckle as the man slid the belt free of the trousers. Harry's breath picked up in anticipation. "I'll spread," he said to the floor. His hands flew back to declare their willingness to be of service.

"Move your hands, slut," Ryan said cruelly.

"Ten should suffice, I think." Severus' bare feet were right next to Harry's head. The sight of them was strangely reassuring. Harry pictured the belt folded over, dull metal studs lining it. He could imagine what they might feel like over his backside.

His uncle had taken a belt to him when he was young. He knew the searing burn of the leather as it struck the bare flesh. The heat that lasted for hours afterward, reminding him of the consequences of being born different. Of being him.

"Keep count," Ryan said.

The first blow sang out loudly against his arse. Harry's cry caught in his throat, and the pain killed any notion of numbers.

"Clearly, he didn't deem the first one worthy of counting. Start again," Severus commanded.

With the second slap, the word "one" rocketed out from Harry's lips. Every subsequent blow fell on a new strip of flesh until Harry felt certain his whole backside from the top of his arse to the backs of his thighs glowed red. By the time he got to ten, he was choking on the numbers. Tears wet his cheeks.

"Lovely," Severus complimented. "I think he may have got the message."

"Yes, sir," Ryan said quietly.

Severus moved around to stand behind Harry and sank to one knee. "I can't think of a more beautiful sight," he said softly. Harry shivered at the feeling of those long, cool fingers stroking his abused flesh. He relaxed considerably at the attention. "Carry on," Severus said.

"Spread," Ryan ordered, taking his place behind Harry again. Harry balanced on his head as he prised his reddened cheeks apart. His hole clenched at the feel of air against it.

"Beautiful," Severus whispered, and the heat in Harry's arse spread to fill him pleasantly. A finger, thicker than Severus', scraped across his opening followed by another, slickened with Severus' salve.

"Is it Vicks, sir?" Ryan inquired as his finger punched into the hold and twisted, smoothing around the ring.

"It's similar. It's my own formula. The effects are largely the same, but this lasts longer," he explained.

Within seconds, Harry's entire body had flushed. A sheen of sweat had broken out on his back as the burning began. His arse jutted back against the other man's finger, wishing it was something substantial enough to satisfy the tingling itch. A small, incoherent whine oozed from his throat.

"That'll do," Severus said. "Go and wait for me there."

The familiar, cool hand slid up Harry's back before clutching at his hair to pull him back onto his knees. Harry's face was red and streaked with tears, eyes glittering brightly as they met with Severus' fathomless stare. Severus' fingers swept through the wetness tenderly. "I'm going to bind your hands to your ankles."

Harry reached back as Severus moved behind him. Soft, silky fabric encircled his wrists, binding them tightly together. His knees widened to steady him as his ankles were similarly bound. A third tie, binding the other two together, caused him to arch backward awkwardly.

"Our Mr Potter has recently developed an affinity for voyeurism," Severus said, rising. "Where once I unsuccessfully attempted to curb this man's indomitable curiosity, in recent years, I've had a change of heart. I'm now inclined to encourage these interests. Although, knowing him as only I do, I rather think this will prove to be a hard-earned lesson of 'careful what you wish for'."

Harry snorted softly and lifted his eyes to see Ryan knelt a few feet away, eyes cast downward. Severus walked over to tower above him. "You may undress me," Severus intoned.

Without skipping a beat, Ryan rose easily to is feet, lifting his hands to begin work on the row of tiny buttons down the front of Severus' shirt. If he was at all frustrated by the sheer number – as Harry so often was – he didn't allow it to show. His fingers worked deftly until the shirt fell open to reveal Severus' skinny frame. Severus' cufflinks were expertly removed. Ryan took care to lay both the shirt and the silver snakes aside before working on the man's trousers.

Harry bit his lip, watching eagerly for the moment when Ryan came eye to eye with Severus' magnificence. Severus' trousers were removed and folded neatly. Ryan's eyes were wide at the sight of the thing straining against the tight fabric of Severus' pants. A look of pure adulation took over his features as he hooked his thumbs into the waist and eased the pants down. A quiet oath escaped the man's lips as Severus' cock sprung free. The man licked his lips.

So did Harry.

Severus took hold of his cock and slapped it against Ryan's cheek. "Do you plan to finish?" he said in an impatient tone.

"Sorry, sir," Ryan said. Released from his trance, he pulled the pants down Severus' legs and lay them aside. "I've just never seen a cock so beautiful, sir," he said meekly.

Mine, a voice growled in Harry's mind. Harry's glare rose to Severus' satisfied smirk.

"May I touch it, sir?" Ryan asked greedily.

The growl Harry had held at bay rumbled now in his throat.

"With your tongue," Severus said, paying Harry no mind at all.

Harry was caught between anger and arousal as Ryan's pink tongue stretched forward to cradle the enormous head. Harry could see the red glans peaking out of the darker sheath of foreskin just a moment before Ryan's tongue twisted around it. The man let out an eager moan and tilted his head forward to stretch his lips around the thing. He was rewarded by a loud slap that Harry privately rejoiced to see.

Ryan let out a shaky breath, his head tipping forward. His cheek was red where Severus had struck him.

"I expected better from you," Severus said in the menacing, mocking tone of Professor Snape. "The perfect little sub. Imagine what your mistress would say were she to know how quickly her pet forgets his training. I'd say she'd be very disappointed indeed."

The tone made Harry shiver. He could see an echo of the effect work over the other man's body.

"Yes, sir."

Another slap fell to redden the other cheek. Ryan's head snapped toward Harry from the force of the blow.

Harry was aching. He was acutely aware of his arse, of the tingling, burning need to have his arse filled. Severus' cock stretched forward, a few feet away, taunting him. Watching the man interact with Ryan was having a very contradictory effect on him. He was aware that this was the man as others would perceive him to be. Cold, hard, punishing. As often as Severus had taken this role with him, one would think Harry would have grown accustomed to it. But this Severus was different somehow. The intensity of his gaze was slightly colder. He was aroused. His cock jutted out disproportionately to his skinny frame, as a testament to his enjoyment. But there was something missing as the man glared down at the blond stranger.

"Open wide," Severus ordered. "If I feel even a hint of teeth, you'll have problems sitting tomorrow."

Ryan's jaw dropped, his lips stretching wide and then wider as Severus introduced the head of his cock between them. Ryan's eyes fluttered closed and Severus inched forward.

Harry watched, entranced by the scene playing out in front of him. His own mouth watered for the flavour of Severus that was being greedily sucked away by Ryan. Severus' gaze took on the slightly glazed look that Harry recognised as pleasure. His jaw clenched firmly as he rocked his way further in. "Is that all you can take?" Severus mocked. An unpleasant smile formed on his lips. Only Harry heard the truth of the pleasure in the roughness of his voice. "I think you've been too long with women, Ryan. You're a disgrace."

Ryan groaned and drew in a lungful of air through his nose. "Suck it," Severus commanded. Ryan's hands flew to encircle the shaft as he raced to pleasure his master, making up for the restrictions of gag reflexes with an enthusiastic tongue and a hand working feverishly. Harry's cock twitched sympathetically, neglected and aching with want of attention. At the sound of Severus' breathing speeding up, Harry whimpered.

Severus pulled Ryan off by his hair with a harsh exhale of breath. His cock was shiny with spit. "Good boy. Now go and let Harry lick the taste from your mouth."

Ryan crawled over to him, his arse high in the air to offer the view up to Severus, who followed his progress. Ryan's lips were red and wet and stretched into a wide smile as he knelt up and leant forward. Harry nearly unbalanced himself, eager as he was for contact. Ryan put a bracing hand on his shoulder and kept a careful distance, forcing Harry to extend his tongue to capture the faint taste from the other man's lips.

Sucking Severus from someone else's mouth awakened a sense of anger and urgency to take it all back. Ryan offered his tongue, and Harry sucked it greedily.

Finally Ryan relented, moving the small distance between them to finally kiss Harry properly. The kiss was wet and slow, reining in the erstwhile urgency and taming it to a languid exploration. Ryan made a small noise of appreciation and pressed his tongue forward, spreading Harry's lips.

Very abruptly, the contact disappeared. Harry opened his eyes to see Severus' hand clenched tightly over Ryan's hair. "That will do," Severus said. Ryan's eyes were cast downward, but an amused smile played on his lips. Harry scraped his teeth over his own lips and panted with general longing.

"I trust you have protection? I'm afraid Harry and I are unprepared for visitors."

"Yes, sir," Ryan said and began crawling toward his rucksack.

Severus walked behind Harry and sank to his knees behind him. As Harry's arms were released, Severus carefully kneaded Harry's shoulders. Harry leant back against the man, relishing in the contact. Severus' hand slid from his shoulders and down over Harry's chest. He pressed a kiss to the base of Harry's neck, and then stiffened as Ryan returned. A string of condoms dangled from between his teeth. He bowed his head to drop them to the side of Harry's knee and awaited further instruction.

"Harry, you're going to show Ryan what a very talented tongue you have. I want him ready to take me." Severus placed a phial of lubricant in his hands. "If you do a very good job, and if there's anything left after I fuck him, I'll see to you."

Harry darted a glare over his shoulder to clearly communicate that Severus had best make him a priority. Severus gave an amused smirk. "Show Harry your arse, Ryan."

Ryan turned, shoving his arse in the air and reached behind to display his puckered entrance. Harry leant forward to bite the man's arse as retribution for the punishments he'd suffered at his hands. Ryan gasped and then gave a little giggle that was cut off as Harry swept his tongue over his hole. Harry's vocal appreciation joined Ryan's as Severus' fingers brushed past his sensitised ring.

Soon the air was thick with the sounds of breathing. Ryan let out delicious little whimpers as Harry launched his assault, prodding the resisting flesh with a tongue strengthened by years of marriage. Severus' fingers fucked Harry slowly, the salve ensuring that Harry could feel every single inch of them.

Harry fumbled with the phial, coating three fingers with lubricant. He inserted two easily, and Ryan called out his appreciation. Harry could feel Severus' cock, wet against his hip, as Severus fit in yet another finger. Harry's hips wiggled of their own accord, inching toward the only thing that could satisfy him.

Severus moved his hips back out of reach.

With an irritable grunt, Harry redoubled his efforts on Ryan, using his fingers to loosen the man, spreading him open as Harry's tongue reached into the tight ring. Harry wiped his mouth against the man's arse and drove a third finger inside, twisting so that his knuckles grazed the hard nub within. Ryan's body gave a spectacular jerk. "Please," he called out, as Harry did it again. "Please, sir. Please fuck me."

"Do you think he deserves it?" Severus said in a low voice against Harry's ear.

If he were honest, Harry was a bit torn. He'd have preferred to be taken himself, and Severus' teasing of his aching arse wasn't helping matters any. But Severus had lain out the course of events, and if Harry were going to get his, Ryan had to go first.

"I want to see him," Harry said. "I want to watch his face."

Severus chuckled. "Go and lie in front of him," he ordered, his fingers slipping out. Harry scurried to sit at Ryan's head. "Suck his cock, Ryan. Don't let him come."

"Yes, sir." An eager grin stretched across the blond man's face as he looked at Harry. His arse tilted up in expectation as his elbows took their place on either side of Harry's hips.

"Look at me," Harry whispered. The man's eyes met his as he pulled Harry's cock from his belly and gave the tip an experimental lick. Harry bit back a gasp, and the tongue swirled around the head teasingly. Behind Ryan, Severus rolled on a condom, watching Harry as he did so.

Ryan descended, taking Harry all the way in. As wound up as Harry was, it wouldn't take much movement. Harry's hand went to Ryan's head, ready to pull him off if it got to be too much. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Severus reach for the anti-congestion salve. A few seconds later, Ryan choked, and Harry's cock slapped wetly back against his belly as the man's expression tightened with the struggle of withstanding the burn Harry had grown to love.

"Fuck," Ryan breathed in a choked voice, his head arching back, offering Harry a view of Severus' hand coating Ryan's prick.

"Do you like that?" Severus asked.

"Y-yeessir," Ryan answered quickly, but it was clear to Harry that he wasn't so sure. Ryan whimpered as Severus' hand continue to work the stuff along his shaft and over his shaven bollocks. His face had gone red. He struggled to catch his breath. A sudden slap to the man's arse seemed to bring his attention back into focus.

"I didn't tell you to stop," Severus spat.

Ryan's breath puffed hot over Harry's cock as he took it up again and covered it with his mouth. Harry's hand curled into the man's hair as he flexed his hips to slide further in. Severus met Harry's eyes with a satisfied smirk as he positioned himself.

Ryan stiffened expectantly. Harry pulled out of his mouth and slid down to insinuate himself between Ryan and the floor. His hand went to cup Ryan's face, which was damp with sweat. The man looked faintly surprised to see Harry's face so close to his own. He coughed a breathy laugh. "You're trying to get me in trouble," he whispered accusingly.

From over the man's shoulder, Harry could see Severus give him an exasperated look, which Harry met with a cheeky smile. He reached down to cup Ryan's soft balls before reaching further to stroke Severus' shaft. A faint tickle of magic seeped out his fingers. Severus gasped and then glared.

"Oh ye of little faith," he drawled.

"Insurance," Harry laughed. He shook his head in response to Ryan's quizzical look and wrapped his fingers around the other man's slender cock. "Fuck him," he said, meeting Ryan's eyes.

Ryan was an attractive man, but he became beautiful as soon as Severus pressed forward. His face twisted into a pained grimace before going slack, eyes wild and unfocussed as Severus pushed inside. "Tell me how good it feels," Harry breathed, stroking the man's face with one hand and caressing the sensitised flesh of his cock with the other.

"He's fucking huge," Ryan choked, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths as Severus rocked inside him.

"He was my first," Harry confided quietly. "I was terrified he'd not fit."

Ryan made a noise between a laugh and a groan. His hips jerked back to push against Severus.

"So full, aren't you," Harry continued in a soft calming tone. He raised his head to kiss Ryan's jaw. "So impossibly stretched. And just when you think there can't possibly be more of him, he thrusts in and surprises you. So fucking deep."

Severus swore on a breath. A fierce look came into the man's dark eyes. Harry pulled Ryan's head down, lips brushing the other man's. "I was spoiled after him. Nothing that comes after will ever be quite so satisfying," he warned, smiling against the man's mouth. "And he's mine, Ryan. Every fucking inch of him."

Severus thrust forward as Harry shoved his tongue in the other man's mouth to sweep away the pained cry. Severus thrust in long, deep strokes. Even muffled by Harry's mouth, Ryan's shouts grew so loud that Harry erecting Silencing charms around the room. The man's cock twitched helplessly in Harry's hand each time Severus thrust forward. Severus fucked him with the abandon of one who had no need for control.

Ryan wrenched his head back, calling out as his hips thrust back to meet Severus' and then forward into Harry's hand. Harry could feel the man swell dangerously and released him in favour of gripping his balls, holding them tightly as Severus continued to pound inside.

"Please, sir," Ryan gasped urgently. "Please, I can't ... I'm going to ..."

Severus backed out abruptly. Ryan slumped forward, panting against Harry's neck.

"Lie on the bed, on your back, with your arse in the air," Severus ordered roughly as he struggled to regain the control he'd forfeited.

Ryan obeyed without hesitation, but slower than before. He crawled off Harry and toward the bed. Harry sat up to watch Severus pull off the condom. He took up another, ripping it open with his teeth before kneeling in front of Harry. Harry laughed at the strangeness of having Severus put a condom on him. Severus offered a complicit smile.

"Have you ever worn one?" Severus asked.

Harry shook his head. "Haytham used them, but he was strictly a top," he told the man.

At the mention of Haytham, Severus' regard darkened possessively. Harry rolled his eyes and rose up to kiss the other man's tightly drawn lips. Severus exhaled sharply after a moment and then kissed Harry back. The unreasonable sense of anger that filled him at the idea of Harry with another man seemed rather misplaced at the moment. "Your toy awaits," he said, swatting Harry's backside.

Harry gave him a grin reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning. Severus snorted. The two men stood and moved to the bed where Ryan lay curled with his knees resting on either side of his head. Harry's hands slid over the tanned flesh of his arse. His head bent to run his tongue over the man's exposed entrance. Ryan moaned appreciatively. Severus took his place behind Harry and watched the other man blow a stream of hot air over Ryan's salve-covered balls.

Severus ached to come. As frequently irritating as the evening's event had been, they had been equally stimulating. Severus was a jealous man – this was no secret. But he found himself unprepared for the strength of emotion at seeing Harry with another man. The inherent wrongness of it. And the beauty. For these two men were nothing if not beautiful. He had before him every gay man's fantasy. For all it was admittedly exciting, he couldn't quite repress a small feeling of urgency to bring the night to a close. A yearning to have Harry to himself again.

Severus reached around to grab Harry's rubber-clad cock and lead it to Ryan's waiting arse. Harry shifted forward, sheathing himself with relative ease. Ryan's legs spread to accommodate him as Harry bent down to kiss the man again, filling Severus with an unstoppable urge to punish him. His hands gripped Harry's arse, spreading the cheeks to reveal the red, puckered hold. Severus speared forward without so much as a warning thrust. Harry gave a strangled shout and went still, squeezing Severus' cock in a vice-like grip. The salve that coated the man's insides now worked over Severus' cock, with a tingly burn. Confident that he now had the man's undivided attention, Severus began thrusting. A few moments later, Harry matched his pace. Judging by the steady stream of curses, Severus didn't think Harry would take long.

Just to be sure of it, Severus angled, pushing Harry's bottom down just so and pounded inside. He could feel Harry shudder at the intensity. Ryan's cries grew gradually more strained as he struggled against his desire for release. The pressure building in Severus' balls had reached new levels of discomfort, and soon he was growling, "Fuck, Harry. Now."

The invisible band was released just before Harry froze, slamming forward. His arse squeezed tightly over Severus, who came with a long, strangled groan. He breathed, rocking his hips into the slippery depths as Harry's body jerked around him. At length, Harry pulled back, reaching around to keep Severus tight against him, and twisted to kiss Severus as Ryan rolled to the side.

"You're incredible," Harry breathed before flopping back down to the bed. Severus' eyes shifted to Ryan who watched him and Harry with a wistful look.

"Lick him clean," Severus ordered with a smirk. Ryan's face broke to a grin as he leapt to obey, his unsatisfied cock stretching desperately forward. Severus left in search of a wet cloths – the inconvenience of Muggle living. He returned to the sight of a blond head burrowing between Harry's cheeks. Harry moaned contentedly into the pillow.

"Very good boy," Severus intoned with a smile. "Your mistress would be proud."

Ryan laughed and knelt up. Harry twisted around to lie on his side. "Get this stupid thing off me," he mumbled groggily. Severus laughed and expertly slipped the thing off the end of Harry's softening cock. He tied it in a knot and dropped it in a nearby bin. "Wretched," Harry muttered and then sighed as Severus dropped a warm cloth over him. Severus handed the other to Ryan.

"God that stuff you put on me is wicked," Ryan said as he began cleaning it off him.

"And it clears your sinuses," Harry agreed.

Ryan winced as he sat back on his arse. "Tomorrow's going to be painful," he said ominously.

Harry looked over. "Lie down," he said. "I have something that'll help."

Severus gave Harry a quizzical look as Harry retrieved the phial of lubricant, which would do nothing to ease the man's pain. Harry winked at him as he coated his fingers and reached between Ryan's cheeks to smooth the lubricant over his used hole. A small look of concentration crossed Harry's face as he healed the man.

"Whoa," Ryan said quietly. "What is that?"

Harry banished the phial. "Hadrian's magic potion," he said dismissively before crawling up to lie in the middle of the bed. He stared up at Severus with an openly adoring look that made Severus' chest ache.

"Do you mind if I crash here?" Ryan yawned.

Severus frowned, and Harry shot him a quelling look. "Not at all," Harry said quickly.

"It's really late and freezing outside. The bed's big enough for three," he said for Severus' benefit.

The bed was big enough, but Severus couldn't help but feel that the man took up far too much space. Harry sat up and announced his intention to clean his teeth with a look at Severus to tell him to follow. When the door closed, Harry pushed Severus against it and kissed him soundly. "Be nice," he said reproachfully. "We used the poor lad, the least we can do is let him sleep over."

"He begged to be used," Severus insisted. "If anything he owes us." He couldn't help the smirk that curled on his lips.

Harry gave him a wicked smile. "It was fun."


"You were amazing."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," Severus said, smiling despite himself.

Harry raised himself up and kissed him again. His mouth moved slowly over Severus' own. After a long moment, Harry laid his head on Severus' shoulder, hands caressing Severus' sides. "I never want you to touch another man again," he confessed. "Ever."

Severus' lips parted dumbly. His heart pounded out its willingness to comply, but his better sense stilled his tongue. He could sympathise with the sentiment. He shared it entirely, but there were limitations to the promises they could make, and they were both well aware of those limitations.

Harry sighed and moved away to fish his toothbrush out of his toiletries bag. He began to savagely brush his teeth, while Severus quietly went about cleaning his own. Harry spit and ran the water to wash his hands and face. As he turned toward the toilet to have a piss, Severus said, "Never's a long time."

Harry flushed and turned toward him. "Another eighty to hundred years, if you're willing to live that long," he said. His voice wasn't quite cold, but there was an undertone of frustration in it. He pressed his lips against Severus' before Severus could think of a reply. "Let's go to bed," he said, slipping past Severus and out the door.

Severus stood frozen. He had no doubt as to the meaning behind the man's request. Harry was demanding commitment. Physical, sexual fidelity. Commitment to live and beyond that, commitment to return to a life Severus didn't really want.

Apart from Harry. If he really thought about what he wanted, above all else, Harry was the only answer. While common sense warned him that there was no such thing as a sure thing, that neither of them could know what would happen if they truly gave the chance of 'us' a go, his heart told him that forever was a distinct possibility – for as long as forever could last.

Eighty to a hundred years. A life sentence.

Severus' mood had sobered considerably by the time he returned to the room to find Ryan fast asleep, lying on his stomach. Harry lay staring up at the ceiling in the middle of the bed. The blankets draped across his naked hips. His hand lay in the centre of his chest.

Severus slipped in beside him, and the lights went out as Harry turned his back to him, waiting for Severus to curl up behind him. "Sorry," Harry whispered after they'd settled.

"I promise," Severus breathed.

Harry went stiff in his arms. Severus could feel the man's heart beat beneath his hand. "Don't," Harry said. "Don't promise. It was a stupid thing to have said."

Severus pressed his lips to kiss the man's neck. "Sleep," he said.

There was time enough to discuss it, and Severus felt fairly confident that they'd touch on the subject a dozen more times before Harry took his leave again. Harry sighed and nestled closer against him. "I love you, Severus," he whispered.

Severus thought to rebuke the man for his carelessness, but let the thought go. He couldn't find it in him to care for secrecy just then. "I love you, too, you stupid man."

Chapter Text

It took Harry a few seconds to get his bearings when he awoke the next morning. He opened his eyes and blinked blearily at the stranger's face on the pillow beside his head. A fan of platinum fringe fanned over the man's eyes. Behind him, Severus' breaths fell in steady slow puffs against his bare shoulders. Harry closed his eyes again and sighed as flashes of images from the night before played like a slideshow in his head. Severus' cool, controlled gaze as he watched Ryan undress Harry. Severus shoving himself between the man's stretched lips. Severus ramming into Harry as Harry in turn slammed into Ryan.

The images were inspiring, and soon Severus' habitual morning erection nestled in his cleft became more than a little distracting. Moving as little as possible to avoid waking the man in front of him, Harry brought his hand under the covers, summoning lubrication, before moving his arse forward enough to run his hand over Severus. Severus' breathing stilled. He gave a sleepy grunt.

"Shh," Harry whispered, coating the other man. Harry moved his leg forward slowly, pulling Severus toward him. Severus was easily persuaded and soon slipped inside with relative ease. He moved to weave his fingers between Harry's as his hips rocked gently.

"First a voyeur and now an exhibitionist? Whatever next, Mr Potter?" Severus whispered into Harry's ear. Harry laughed breathily into the pillow, canting his hips back with remarkably controlled movements.

"A whole world of possibilities, Professor" he whispered back after his giggling fit subsided.

Severus jerked his hips forward, causing Harry's breath to leave him in a loud puff. The man let go of Harry's hand in favour of wrapping his fingers over Harry's erection, pumping him as slowly and carefully as his hips moved. Harry arched his back, rocking his own hips in a sweeping motion to ensure that Severus' aim was perfect every single time.

Their breathing soon quickened and all thought of witnesses dismissed as they worked with increasing urgency toward the summit. Harry lived for this. As much as he enjoyed their games, the creative ways they continuously invented for drawing out their moments together in sensual bliss, he loved the early mornings best. It was vanilla. A simple drive toward a common goal. He could think of no better way to start the day. He'd sooner give up tea.

"God, don't stop," he choked, squeezing his eyes shut as Severus had attained the perfect combination of rhythm and position to render Harry incoherent with need. His fists clenched the pillow and his teeth gritted together until finally his body clenched inward violently and exploded wetly against the sheets. Severus milked him as he continued to thrust. If Ryan hadn't been disturbed by the movements, the noise of Severus' hips slapping loudly against Harry's arse would have done the job. Severus bit Harry hard on the shoulder when he came, his body spasming with the aftershocks.

Harry's face was half buried in the pillow. He opened an eye to see Ryan's eyes open, a small smile curled on his lips. His hips were uncovered and his hand stroked his erection lazily. "Morning," Harry said with a sheepish grin.

Ryan laughed. "Shall I get you a cloth?" he asked and then moved to do just that before either of them could respond. He plucked a discarded cloth from the table at the side of the bed and then went to the bathroom. Harry heard running water.

"You think we woke him up?" he asked, amused.

"It's your fault," Severus mumbled. "I was sleeping when you accosted me."

"I've never woken up with two men in my bed before. It was overwhelming," Harry answered.

"Plan on making it a habit, do you?" Severus intoned.

Their discussion from the night before came back to Harry and hit him like cold water. Severus' whispered, "I promise." Harry's panic at the possible implications of that promise. "It depends entirely on you," he said quietly, trying to go for a light tone. "I might turn into a total slut, if you don't save me from myself," he joked. Sort of joked.

"What do you mean, 'Turn into'?" Severus responded.

Ryan's laugh rang out to remind them that they weren't alone.

"Cheers," Severus said, accepting the warm cloth and pulling out. Harry lifted a leg as the cloth swept over his backside.

"I could get used to this," he sighed. "We should hire him on as our houseboy." He twisted around to raise his eyebrows in a hopeful expression.

Severus gave him a bland look. "Wouldn't that make you redundant?" he said with a smirk.

"I'm one of the most powerful men in Britain, remember?" Harry said cheekily.

"You're not in Britain," Severus answered.

Ryan laughed as he crawled over the two of them to lie down beside Harry. "So, what do you do anyway?" he asked.

Harry turned onto his back and sat up against the headboard. "Nothing I can talk about," he said honestly.

Severus snorted. "Subtle," he said.

"You started it," Harry pointed out, nudging the other man.

Ryan grinned. "A man of mystery," he laughed. "You guys are great together," he said wistfully.

Harry managed to hold his smile a second or so before it faded. They were great together. He didn't look forward to the inevitable end to that. Severus grunted.

"So, how do you manage it?" Harry asked, giving into curiosity. "With your mistress."

Ryan shrugged. "We have an understanding," he said. "She and I have been together for seven years now. She knows I'm searching for someone who can give me everything I need. She cares enough about me to want that for me. Most of the time, she chooses the men for me. Another sub that she's helping to break in, or she'll give me to another dom. It sounds a bit crazy, but it's not such a bad life," he said grinning. "It'll do for now. Until I find ... what you guys have."

Harry glanced at Severus whose face was pulled into that blank expression he wore when he didn't want to betray his thoughts. Harry's hand went to stroke his head.

"She won't be happy that I went and did this last night, but as I didn't break any cardinal rules, she won't be too hard on me. I can't wait to introduce you to her."

"Speaking of which," Severus said, rolling off the bed, "as you're here, it might be a good time to see to your back." He stood and Harry watched him walk to the closet, admiring his long legs, the gentle swell of his high, rounded bum. He was deprived of the pleasant view by a pair of knickers being pulled on. Severus turned into the bathroom. Harry sighed at the loss.

"How do you stand to be away from him?" Ryan asked.

Harry glanced over. He lowered his eyes. "I suppose it's habit," he said. "We spend more time apart than together. For a long time I was married. He was with his partner. There was never really a possibility for there to be more than a string of letters and a week or so together every few years," Harry explained.

"What happened with his partner?" Ryan asked, sliding up next to Harry.

"He died a little over a year ago. Cancer," Harry said.

Ryan wrinkled his nose. "Sucks," he muttered. "But I guess it's good for you, right?"

Harry gave a rueful smile and shrugged. "But for geography," he said, remembering Severus' phrase. But for geography, they were perfectly matched.

"And you can't leave Britain?"

Harry shook his head. "I have children and my job. And ..." Even if he decided to leave both – which he couldn't even bring himself to consider – he would undoubtedly be followed and Severus would be exposed. "It's just complicated."

"He won't go back to England?"

Harry grunted. "I'm working on it," he said with a grin that he hoped would put an end to the discussion.

Severus emerged from the bathroom and looked at where the two men sat on the bed. If he detached that part of his brain that adamantly claimed Harry as his own, he could see that the two would make a beautiful pair. They had youth and beauty on their side. Harry's black hair and startling eyes contrasted nicely with the platinum blond and grey eyes of the slightly younger man. Given Harry's Wizarding heritage, they looked of an age. Severus thought the Muggle to be a far more suitable and socially acceptable match for the young hero than an aging, emotionally-stunted fugitive.

He didn't suspect Harry would agree, and he would never stop being surprised and dumbfounded by that fact. Severus dismissed the momentary reverie and said, "You'll want to get your knickers on. I wouldn't want to get distracted," he said.

Harry glared at him. "Yes. Best not," he said with mock gravity. As Ryan slipped off one side of the bed in search of his discarded clothes, Harry slid off the other side and walked up to Severus to kiss him. "I'll have a shower. Behave," he said with a smile.

"Yes, sir," Severus drawled.

Harry went for his turn in the bathroom, and Severus walked over to where Ryan stood in ... well, a thong. Severus shook his head. "I'm not sure those count as knickers," he said, amused.

Ryan laughed. "I can put my pants on if it's too much for you," he said coyly.

"I shall try and find the self-control necessary to maintain a professional demeanour," Severus retorted. He bid the man turn around and recommenced the examination. He'd had a feel the night before, but it was more in the name of flirtation than professional interest. He suspected the root of the man's problems lay in his tendency to be bound in unnatural positions for long periods of time. As his fingers walked down the man's spine, searching for the telltale signs of problems, his eyes trailed further down to the thin strip of black fabric disappearing between the man's arse cheeks. He really was a very attractive man.

"In the absence of my table, I think we'll need to use the floor," he said. "Lie on your back."

Ryan dropped to the floor and stretched out. Severus knelt next to him and slid his hand under the man's arse, driving his fingers deep into the muscle as he applied pressure to his hip bone. Ryan hissed painfully as Severus' fingers found the sore spot. "So how long have you done this?" the man asked as Severus leant in and held the position.

"Over fifteen years now. Before that I was a teacher," Severus answered.

"Wow, I might have liked school a lot more if I had teachers like you," Ryan said with a smile.

Severus snorted. "It's doubtful," he said. "I'm sure Harry would be all too happy to tell you what kind of teacher I was," he said.

Ryan laughed. "That explains it. I heard him call you professor this morning. You were his teacher?"

"I was so unfortunate," Severus responded. He knelt back up and brought up Ryan's leg to cross it over his body. His knee held his hip firmly in place as he leant in again.

"Ouch," Ryan complained tightly.

"Come now, you've taken worse than this."

Ryan grunted. "A different kind of pain," he said. "What did you teach?"

"Magic potions," Severus said with a wry tone to disguise the truth.

"Like chemistry?"

"Like chemistry," Severus agreed.

"Why'd you stop?" Ryan asked, breathing out as Severus let up. Severus climbed over the man to work on the other side.

Severus sighed. He hated these types of questions. He hated the lies that went with them. He hated, furthermore, that he was damned to go through all of this for as long as he lived.

For as long as he lived outside of Britain.

"Because Harry left school, and I couldn't bear the thought of being there without him," Severus said irritably.

"Really?" Ryan's eyes met his.

Severus gave a flat look. "No. Not really. I loathed teaching delicate arts to useless nitwits who didn't have the subtlety of mind to appreciate them." It was true enough even if it had nothing to do with his leaving.

"Jeez, I bet you were vicious," he said, a wicked smile twisting on his lips.

Severus laughed. "My former students would undoubtedly agree."

"But you-" Ryan's breath hitched as a pop resounded in his back. "You could do this in Britain, right?"

"Turn over," Severus ordered him. Ryan did so, padding his forehead with his hands. Severus pressed down on his tailbone.

"Couldn't you?"

Severus sighed irritably. "If I wanted to," he said.

"But you don't want to," Ryan followed.

Severus frowned. "Why are you asking?"

Ryan's shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "I think it's really sad that you and Harry aren't together. Especially when it's so clear that you both want to be," the man said.

"I think it's none of your affair," Severus snapped.

Ryan went quiet a moment before apologising. Severus kneaded the muscles in the small of his back, taking out his frustration regarding the futility of his situation on the knotted flesh. He looked up at the sound of the bathroom door opening and then glared back down at the task in hand.

"Do those actually qualify as knickers?" Harry asked, watching Severus' fingers dig into the exposed round cheeks.

Ryan laughed into the floor. "I thought about buying you a pair," he quipped. "You can probably pick some up tonight at the show."

"I can't wait," Harry said dryly, pulling on a fresh pair of tight red boxer briefs.

"The idea has merit," Severus said, glancing up at Harry.

Harry looked over and rolled his eyes. Severus gave the bared bum a playful slap before standing. "That should do until the next time you're tied into a pretzel in the name of entertainment. I would recommend going on a quest to find a gay, male dom who happens also to be an osteopath."

Ryan rolled over and looked up. "Well, if you ever move to New York," he said with a suggestive smile.

"He'd not live long," Harry finished, pulling on a pair of jeans.

Ryan rose up and pulled his own trousers on. "OK. But seriously, if ever you need a houseboy ... I'm just saying."

Before long, Severus was cleaned up and Ryan finished dressing. Harry invited Ryan for breakfast, but Ryan declined, citing that he needed to 'hit the gym' and prepare for the show. Severus wasn't of a mind to insist.

It was strangely awkward to find themselves alone again for reasons Severus didn't know how to explain. It was as though Ryan acted as a catalyst for the normal banter that had been passed between him and Harry that morning, and now that the man was no longer there to relieve it, an expectant tension descended.

They went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Severus managed to convince himself that he was inventing the tension and was just about to take a bite of his toast when Harry asked, "What did you mean when you said I promise?"

Severus took a bite and chewed to avoid having this conversation. Harry was still looking at him when he swallowed. Ever the optimist, he chased the bite with a sip of coffee. He sighed. "I should think it obvious," he said finally.

"Obvious," Harry said.

"You told me you didn't want me to be with other men. I promised I wouldn't." Obvious, Severus silently added. He took another hopeful bite of his toast, which had suddenly become too dry.

"But what did you mean? You made that promise rather easily, didn't you? I mean, if you intended to stay on here indefinitely, it would be rather difficult to maintain that promise, don't you think?" The man's voice maintained a quiet tone, but there was an edge of anger behind it now. It blazed at him through the too green eyes.

"At the moment, I have no desire to be with anyone but you," he said evasively.

"At the moment," Harry answered. "What happens when I'm not here?"

"Harry, do we really need to have this conversation now? You're only here for a few more days. I thought we'd agreed to put it off until the last minute when you could go storming back home in an appropriately dramatic fashion," Severus said irritably.

In hindsight, he might have worded that more carefully. The man's eyes flashed as bright as the killing curse before going dull as he shut down. He stared at his plate, his hand going to his forehead to stroke the scar. Severus had a fleeting thought that the thing might have faded by now if Harry had not developed the habit of wearing a hole through his head. He successfully refrained from making the comment.

"Harry, we've had a lovely morning and we have a city to explore before leaving tomorrow," he said in a reasonable tone. "I would really rather not argue with you."

Harry nodded, his jaw working over his frustration. "All right," he said calmly. "We won't talk about it. But let's at least name what we're not talking about. You can't stay in Boulder much longer. I see that now. You can't have a meaningful life anywhere in the Muggle world for longer than, say, twenty years tops without arousing suspicion. You can't live in the Wizarding world without coming clean," Harry summarised succinctly. "Coming back to Britain would be complicated. There would be months of constant interviews, press conferences and scandal. It will be hell for you to see the people who have thought you were dead all these years. You will have to confront the anger and hurt of those who cared about you, Severus, and that will be rough. But I would be there right beside you through it all."

Severus stayed studiously silent through the man's speech. It was clear he'd thought through the issue, and so Severus lost the power to call the man short-sighted or reckless. He suspected Harry had been thinking through the issue for the past twenty years. "Really," he said. "And how willing are you to stand in front of those people – with their inflated image of the boy hero – and proclaim me your one true love?" Severus asked unpleasantly.

To his annoyance, Harry smiled. "Nothing would give me more pleasure," he said so sincerely that Severus thought him touched in the head. "They'll be admittedly shocked. But everyone who matters will understand and be happy for me. For us."

Severus gave him a doubtful look. "Molly? She'd kill me."

Harry laughed. "She wouldn't. I'm not a kid anymore, Sev. And ... you know, I worried for years what she and Arthur would do if they found out the truth about me. It was one of the main reasons Gin and I stayed together as long as we did. I was terrified of losing the only family I've ever really known. You know what they did? They hugged me and told me that I was their son even before Gin and I were married. Molly wants me to find someone, Severus. She wants me to be happy. You make me happy."

Severus growled in irritation. "Harry, you can't possibly know that would be true," he told the man. He told himself. "We've never spent any significant amount of time together."

"Do you think we could make it six months?" Harry asked.

Severus blinked. "What?"

"Six months. That's how long it will take for you to re-establish yourself in Britain. If you and I fail after that, you're already there. You have your life back." Harry's eyes softened to an appealing expression. "We can't predict the future. But we're good together, Sev. Even strangers can see it. Why can't you?"

He did see it, for all the good it did him. Severus glared at the remnants of their breakfast .

"We won't talk about it now," Harry repeated. "We'll leave it there and readdress it just before I leave so I can storm out in a suitably dramatic fashion," he said mockingly.

Severus' mouth twitched.

"You're a prick," Harry commented before picking up a knife to butter his toast.

Severus nodded. "You used to appreciate that about me."

Harry laughed. "Believe it or not, I still do."


The show was held in a warehouse of sorts that had been partitioned off with judiciously placed dark curtains to separate the large space into smaller, more intimate settings. The largest of the spaces featured rafters set around an octagonal space on the floor, illuminated by a spotlight. Harry hadn't known what to expect. When he suggested that he and Severus may need to do shopping for the event, Severus told him that Ryan had said it was an informal night – a sort of meet and greet to bring together like-minded individuals, and a place where the curious could come and be introduced to a plethora of deviant sexual behaviours.

The smaller, more intimate settings showcased flogging stools, faux concrete walls with shackles, deceptively plain-looking tables. Each partitioned off area was lined with benches surrounding the staging area. At the entrance of the warehouse, there was a makeshift stand set up to sell various bits of clothing, toys and punishment aids.

Harry had, of course, been to clubs like this on numerous occasions since he became sexually aware, but as with everything else in America, it all seemed to be bigger, a little more spectacular, and consequently a little less intimate. When he shared the observation with Severus, Severus grunted and said, "Everything that happens in America is about making money. This show is set up to sell the wares at the front. The more spectacular they make it, the more people will come, and keep coming. The more they will buy."

It seemed a bit cynical, but Harry thought Severus wasn't entirely mistaken. It was all just too polished in Harry's mind. The clubs he'd gone to in Britain and in Germany truly gave the impression of a haphazard organization of individuals offering up a safe place to come and explore. This setting was slightly more produced. More professional.

The crowd that gathered in the staging area to watch the show looked as though they'd been picked at random from the New York subway. There were men dressed in three-piece suits and polished shoes sitting next to young women with holey tights and multi-colour hair. There were men in jeans and work boots and women in latex catsuits and, what Ginny would call, Bitch Boots. Harry had been slightly ill-at-ease with his distinct lack of costume, but as his eyes cast around the crowd, he decided his jeans and tight-fitting jumper were not entirely out of place.

Severus, of course, wore black.

As the crowd got settled, the lights went out. There was a faint glow of lines marking the alley ways. A click-click-click resounded loudly against the concrete and Harry could just make out a shimmer of a female form and the glow of naked flesh crawling behind her, trailed by a silver chain that glinted in the low light. A sound of trance music faded in just as the lights went up.

Mistress Madeleine was smaller than Harry had expected. She wore an armoured breast plate and tight shimmering silver hotpants that displayed well-muscled, impossibly long legs. Her slim, bony shoulders were pulled back haughtily. She looked to be mid-forties, if Harry were to judge. Her tidy black bob descended at a sharp angle over a strong jawline. Harry wondered if it was a wig.

Ryan knelt at her side wearing an intricate harness of silver chains that fed through his nipple rings and down through the ring in his scrotum. A series of artfully placed leather bands showcased his cock. He wore a collar, through which the chains over his body fed up into a lead that the Mistress held. His body shined, as though he'd been oiled down.

Harry had thought he'd known what to expect. A bit of bondage. A bit of whipping. Perhaps a fair amount of verbal abuse. And there was quite a bit of all of that, but mostly, it was theatre. Admittedly, it wasn't the type of theatre that most people would go to, but it was a performance all the same. Mistress Madeleine strutted around the periphery of the crowd like a lion tamer in the circus. Ryan was strapped up to a round metal frame on wheels, arms and legs spread and shackled. The woman took up a cylindrical leather case and walked around displaying the spiky interior before closing it over Ryan's cock, buckling it tight. There was a low murmur from the crowd. Harry glanced at Severus, who watched with an impassive expression.

In the end, Harry decided to let go of all expectations and just sat back and enjoyed the show. Mistress Madeleine explained to the crowd that her pet had been particularly naughty the night before and so would be treated like the dirty, cock-hungry slut that he was. Harry couldn't help the smile stretched across his face. A satisfied smirk graced his companion's lips. "You think we should apologise?" Harry whispered.

"I think he's about to make amends for all of us," Severus whispered back.

He wasn't wrong. Harry had always watched these sorts of displays with interest. He found them arousing in the same way as listening to other people having sex was arousing, but it didn't really get to him unless he was intimately involved in it. Perhaps it was the theatricality of it, or perhaps it was because he knew the man being punished, but he was moved by the performance a bit more than he could remember having been before. For every lash of the cruel whip, Harry gave a shiver of excitement. As the nipple clamps bit into the man's flesh, Harry very nearly moaned along with him.

Severus looked over in amusement as Harry shifted in his seat. "Enjoying the show?" he said darkly against Harry's ear.


"She's good," Severus said.

The both went quiet to watch the woman, brandishing a large dildo, step behind the bound man. Ryan's chest heaved as he struggled to breathe through the torture. His body was now lined in thin stripes of pink where the whip had fallen. His balls bulged on either side of the leather straps, and his cock remained gloved in the spiky sheath. But it was his face that truly captured Harry's attention. The glazed look of ecstasy in his eyes. The parted lips through which he breathed. A look of pained concentration seized hold of his features followed by the slack look of sensory bliss. Mistress Madeleine spun the frame around to give their side of the stage a look at the black end of the dildo nestled between his cheeks.

"God, he's beautiful," Harry said in an awed voice. He realised his folly and quickly glanced at Severus, who nodded.

"So is this the sort of thing you do with others?" Harry asked quietly.

For a moment, he didn't think Severus was going to answer. Eventually, he leant in toward Harry. "It takes years to cultivate the sort of trust needed to go this far. You don't get this level of submission from a one-night stand," he explained in a quiet voice.

"Is that something you want?" Harry asked, against his better sense.

Severus looked at him and smiled. He leant in to kiss Harry on the lips briefly before saying, "Watch the show."

By the end of the show, Ryan's jaw strained over another large dildo, the skin of his backside glowed red from the paddling he received and his eyes had the unfocussed look of one who had been drugged. Sweat plastered his hair to his forehead and shined over his body in the glow of the lights. He still hadn't come.

Harry was painfully aroused and quite prepared to skip out and return to the hotel room. Severus insisted on going to the bar area for a drink. They'd no sooner sat down on a stool at a high table than Mistress Madeleine entered, leading Ryan behind her. Harry could still make out the dildo nestled in his bum. Harry watched her go to the bar and order. She shot a disdainful look at the kneeling man beside her when he touched her thigh lightly. She looked around and her eyes zeroed in on Severus. She flashed him a bright smile before striding over, leaving Ryan to wait for the drinks.

"So," she said, striding up to the table. She only gave Harry a passing glance before turning her charm on Severus. "You're the famous Hadrian." She sat on the empty stool.

Severus lifted an eyebrow. After a moment, he laughed and shook his head. "I'm merely one among thousands of tourists in this city," he said smoothly. "I enjoyed the show."

"I hope so. It was dedicated to you, after all," she laughed.

"This is Harry."

She gave a Harry a condescending smile and then ignored him entirely. Harry decided he didn't think much of Mistress Madeleine. His eyes turned to see Ryan making his way slowly toward them on his knees, holding a martini glass and a metal bowl. His eyes were trained on a spot on the floor as he approached. He lifted the glass to Madeleine. As he lowered the bowl to the floor, water sloshed out of it.

"Lick it up," she said harshly.

Harry realised he'd never make it as a submissive. He frowned, indignant on the other man's behalf. Severus' hand came to rest on his back as though warning him to keep calm. As Ryan lowered his head to clean the floor, Madeleine's lifted her legs, digging her spiked heels into his side.

"I'm told I have you to thank for fixing his back," she said kindly to Severus.

Severus shrugged. "I've been more than rewarded for the time it took me," he said graciously. "He truly is a work of art. You must be very proud."

She glowed. "He has his moments," she said, beaming. "To be honest, he was a natural sub. They're not all as easily tamed," she said with a dismissive glance at Harry.

Harry narrowed his eyes. Severus laughed. "There's something to be said for a little feistiness," he said. "I prefer Harry untamed."

Her eyes moved to Harry to assess him now, and Harry looked back defiantly. She gave a slow smile.

"Well, if you ever had a mind to train him, I'd be happy to help. I like rewarding my pets with new toys now and again."

Severus gave a tight smile that made him look dangerous. "I think you mistake the nature of my relationship with Harry. He has a mind of his own. Although, I'm sure he will give your offer all the consideration it deserves," he said with a cold politeness.

Harry laughed. The man's tone made it clear that although Harry did, indeed, have a mind of his own, he'd be wise not to make the wrong choice. He gazed at Severus with open affection and then shook his head. "I'm not submissive," he insisted, deciding to lay the truth bare for the woman, who was clearly labouring under the wrong impression.

"Unless the mood takes him," Severus corrected. "And beside which, neither of us live in the area."

"So, I'm told," Madeleine said. "I guess it's fortunate for me that you don't." She looked between the two men with a puzzled smile. After a moment, she shook her head. "Ryan asked me to thank you for inviting him over. He'd tell you himself, but he's not allowed to speak tonight," her feet moved to the floor. When she stood, she was scarcely taller than she'd been sitting. "Hadrian," she said, offering her hand over. "My card is at the door. If you're ever in the city again, I do hope you'll call. I think I'd enjoy watching you work," she said with a flirtatious smile.

To Harry's surprise, she turned to him next. She graced him with a smile that didn't look entirely put on. "Harry," she said and paused to look at him. Harry stared back at her with a tight smile. After a moment she laughed. "My word," she said, "everything about you provokes me."

Severus' shout of laughter rang out above the general din. "The trouble is that if you beat the defiance out of him, you'd only miss it later," he said sympathetically.

Harry gave Severus an exasperated look, and the man laughed harder.

"Perhaps," Madeleine said with a grin. "Enjoy your evening, gentlemen."

Harry and Severus stood watching the gentle sway of Ryan's hips as he crawled out of the bar. The end of the plug acted as a focal point, drawing down the eyes and the imagination by extension. "She's a bitch," Harry commented, swallowing down the rest of his drink.

Severus laughed and pulled the man close. "She was absolutely right about you," he said in a dark voice. "After all these years, someone finally was able to look past that charming smile and see the defiant little brat beneath. I feel vindicated," Severus said with a smirk. Harry glared up, pressing the smile from his face. "But if anyone is going to beat that out of you, that honour falls to me. I've earnt it."

Harry lifted up to kiss the man. "It might take years," he warned him.

"Without a doubt," Severus agreed.

The two men walked around the place for a while longer. They watched as the guests of the evening experimented from within the various rooms. It was mildly exciting, but generally didn't compare to watching Ryan get dealt to. Severus disappeared to the rest room before they set off, leaving Harry to peruse the merchandise on sale. His hands stroked over the various items as though compelled to do so. He found the whole scene fascinating. He always had done. He realised tonight that he wasn't a part of it. He was a merely a spectator.

The thought caused him to wonder where Severus fit in to it all, which led him to wonder if, given a choice, Severus would prefer that he be submissive. His better sense reminded him that Severus claimed to prefer him untamed. And as far as sex went, Harry didn't really think that Severus had any complaints. But if miracles happened and he and Severus had the opportunity to have a normal sex life – what would that normal sex life look like? What was normal for Severus?

His fingers brushed over a leather collar. Ryan's comment from the night before came to him. He wears your collar just as much as you wear his. Harry smiled.


Harry stood in reflective silence as the two men rode the lift back up to their room. Severus had tried several times to determine what was going on in the man's mind since leaving the club, but the man invariably shook his head and assured him that he was fine. It was irritating and in Severus' experience, reflective silences invariably broke into arguments.

As they entered the room, Severus asked, "Are you going to show me what's in the bag?"

An enigmatic smile broke over the man's face. "Later," he said and then stowed the bag away in his trunk. He pulled his jumper over his head and set it to the side. He gave Severus the hesitant look of someone not quite sure how to broach a difficult subject.

Severus patience snapped. "Spit it out, Potter."

Harry pursed his lips together. A frown pulled down his brow. At length, his frustration deflated with a heavy sigh. "What was David like?"

The subject was unexpected and Severus was almost certain he'd not heard right. David, he realised with a vague sense of residual guilt, had been the furthest thing from his mind for days now. "What?"

"I remember you told me he had more traditional tastes, and you were with him a long time so... that must have been enough for you, right?"

Severus' mind trailed back to the aborted conversation Harry had started during the show. With an acute sense of incredulity, Severus realised that Harry was worried he wasn't enough for Severus. The idea was so patently absurd that Severus laughed. He pulled the foolish man close and held his face in his hands. "You're an idiot," he said with a smile and leant down to kiss him.

Harry snorted. "Maybe, but I'd like to talk about it anyway," he said, before breaking away to sit on the bed. He patted the space beside him. Severus gave the man a baleful look before resigning himself to the inevitable.

"You spotted Ryan for what he was right away," Harry said.

Severus nodded. "The collar rather gave it away."

"But that's the sort of bloke you go for," Harry said.

Severus shrugged. "I enjoy power play, Harry," he sighed. "As do you."

"But I only play at it," he said. "I'm happy to kneel at your feet now and again, Sev, but if you asked me to lick a dirty bar floor, I'd tell you to get stuffed."

Severus laughed. "I'll try and keep that in mind." At Harry's frown, Severus' eyes cast upward to appeal to nameless gods for strength. "Harry have I ever complained about the nature or quality of our exploits?"

"No," Harry said. "But we don't see each other often enough for you to get bored."

Severus clamped down on a retort that the situation wasn't likely to change. He wasn't ready for that conversation yet, and the night was still salvageable. Instead, he sought calm enough to try and explain why Harry's fears were not only unfounded, but unreasonable. He looked for a way to convince the other man.

"When I was fifteen," he began quietly. He could see Harry's attention focus greedily at the introduction. If there was one thing he could count on Harry paying attention to, it was missing information about Severus' sketchy past. "I was drawn into a strange and varied sexual affair with Evan Rosier that lasted five years."

"Five years?" Harry said, clearly surprised. "I didn't realise it had gone on so long."

"We were not, by any means, exclusive – or rather, he wasn't. It was not an emotional relationship, at least not in any conventional sense. I was the slave to his every sexual whim. If he wanted to be dominated, I dominated him. If he wanted me to be submissive, I complied. If he wanted me to dress up in women's knickers ..."

Harry exploded in laughter, clearly delighted by the image. Severus gave him a quelling look which was wholly ineffective. Severus snorted. "A story for another day," he said quietly. "The point I'm trying to make – if you would quit giggling like a little twit – is that for all my relationship with Evan was dysfunctional, I've never been so sexually fulfilled," Severus concluded. "Until you."

The laughter quickly left Harry's face. A frown appeared. "I don't know how to feel about that," he said. "I don't want to remind you of him."

Severus couldn't help but snort at the statement. Harry couldn't possibly be less like Evan. "You don't remind me of him. There are a few very important differences. I trust you implicitly, for starters. You submit to my desires as readily as I submit to yours. We approach it as equals, Harry. For Evan, I was little more than a puppet. I had neither the confidence nor the option to demand more from him. I hated it. I hated myself for being grateful for his attentions. But I was never bored."

Harry looked at him and nodded. He appeared to understand what Severus was getting at. Severus continued. "What bores me is investing time and effort to understand a man's limits only to never see the man again. I was happy with that for awhile, but after you, the experience was exposed for what it was. Empty. With David, it was the companionship that carried us through. The sex was pleasurable and yes, traditional. His idea of kink was to be blindfolded. He didn't care for pain, and I respected that. I like to think, however, that his definition of kink had broadened considerably by the time he passed."

Harry sat quietly a moment before laying his head on Severus' shoulder. Severus turned his head to kiss the top of the other man's. "Are you sufficiently reassured?" he asked. "Because I've just spent an entire evening picturing you in a number of compromising positions, and I'm eager to see how many we can get through before dawn."

He didn't have to see it to sense the grin on Harry's face. He could picture it perfectly.

"I'm still trying to picture you in women's knickers," Harry said before dissolving into another fit of giggles, for which Severus was obliged to punish him severely.


The two men arrived back in Denver late Sunday afternoon. It felt to Severus as though a countdown had begun the moment their feet touched the ground. Suddenly, the seemingly endless two weeks had been whittled down to days and once again, their time was running short.

To top it off, Severus had a full schedule of clients he was trying very hard not to resent. If his bedside manner was a little more abrupt than usual, it couldn't be helped. His mind was firmly set upstairs, in his flat, where the man of his dreams waited for him.

The man of his dreams. The phrase would normally make Severus cringe to hear it. It shamed him to think that his own mutinous mind had formed that ridiculously trite thought. At some point during his longwinded explanation as to why he couldn't possibly ever get bored with Harry, the notion was planted like a seed that had grown at an alarming rate, and was now twisted and twined over every single waking thought. Every look the man cast him, every smile, every kiss acted as a growth agent, and soon Severus could scarcely think of anything else but the shameful passing of a perfect opportunity. The loss of perfection.

His mind was infested with weeds of romantic frivolousness that swallowed up his logic and seized hold of his reason until it could speak with its voice. It didn't have to end, it told him. There were options. They could be together. And wouldn't it be worth the initial pain to have that which he wanted most? After all, what did Severus Snape care about public opinion?

By Wednesday, Severus was almost fully convinced. The panic of losing Harry outweighed whatever terror he'd had of returning to face Wizarding Britain. He'd even set about making lists of all that he'd have to sort out here before taking his leave. When he climbed the stairs to his flat at the end of another long day, he was imagining the look of joy on the other man's face when Severus told him his decision.

"Hey," Harry said, carrying a pot of something to the table, which had been set for two. The flat smelled of stewed meat. He set the pot down on a heating pad and walked over to kiss Severus. "So, I watched one of your memories," he said with an amused smile.

Harry had insisted on seeing Severus in women's underpants and Severus had begrudgingly given up the memory, along with a few other choice moments that made up his early sexual development. "Just one?" Severus drawled.

"Hm," Harry said and then laughed. "It's one thing to hear you talk about it. It's quite another to actually see it. I felt like a dirty old man," Harry laughed. "You were both so ... young. James isn't much younger than you were then. I suppose some things are better left to the imagination," he said ruefully.

And there it was. The dark blight that could effectively lay waste to a garden of hope.

Harry had a son. Harry had two sons and a daughter. Of course, Severus had known this. It was one of those annoying things about Harry that Severus had managed to overlook, as one might overlook the minor personality flaws for the good of a relationship. But if Severus were to return to Britain, the little brats wouldn't be so easily ignored. They're away at school most of the year, came the voice of his choking optimism. But the daughter wasn't, and the others would invariably come back to plague their perfection with their incessant need for attention, and whinging that Daddy's partner wasn't a very nice man.

Severus' imagination went about drawing up the family portrait of Harry sitting with a broad smile, and piled on top him, his spawn. Severus sneering from a corner. It was one thing to picture his life alone with Harry. Severus was able to just about imagine growing old with the other man, spending their days in their own version of domestic bliss. Waking up to watch the sun rise. Coming home to eat dinner together. Perhaps meeting up for lunch in London. He could see the possibilities.

But in his version, there were no children. There were no godchildren. No grandchildren.

"You all right?" Harry asked frowning.

Severus shook his head, casting away the remnants of his overgrown imaginings. "Fine," he lied.

"If it means that much to you, I'll watch the rest," Harry said uncertainly.

Severus snorted. "Don't be an idiot," he grumbled and walked to the loo, leaving Harry behind to wonder what he'd said to cause the dark clouds to roll in.



Their last hours together were upon them. Predictably, Severus had become recalcitrant, speaking in grunts and grumbles when he wasn't sullenly staring into space. Harry could understand the sentiment, even if he was a little disappointed that their final hours were to be spent in the dark fog of Severus' gloom.

As the dinner dishes were cleared away, Harry went in search of the gift he'd got for Severus. It was a gesture, really. A promise of sorts. But the man had irritated him so much since he'd come home that Harry wasn't sure he wanted to bother anymore. He summoned up enough good will to reason that Severus' mood was just indicative of his reluctance to see Harry go. It meant the man loved him – even if he had a poor way of showing it sometimes.

Severus was seated on the sofa, cradling a tumbler of whisky and staring into space. Harry dropped the gift-wrapped parcel on his lap and smiled encouragingly when the man twisted around to glare at him. "What's this?"

"Open it," Harry said, coming around to sit next to the man.

Harry waited expectantly as Severus stared down at the box as though it might explode at any minute. The longer Severus stared, the more doubtful Harry became. "It's not really a gift," Harry said weakly. "I mean it is ... but, not really." This had been a terrible mistake, he knew. And waiting until now, when Severus was probably at his worst, had been an even bigger one. "It's actually pretty stupid," Harry continued nervously. He gave a weak laugh as the word "stupid" decided to play on loop in his head. "Really cheesy," he continued.

He was going to hate it. He was going to scoff and sneer and call Harry a sentimental fool.

"For fuck's sake, Severus, just open it," Harry snapped.
Severus looked over. His momentary surprise turned to a mask of sheer stubbornness. "No," he said.

"What do you mean, 'No'?" Harry asked incredulously.

"No. Surely even in your limited lexicon, you've come across the word." Severus' upper lip curled. "Whatever it is, I don't want it. I don't want your parting gifts. I don't want some sentimental trinket to remember you by ... I don't want some piece of you lying around my flat with which to gut myself every time I happen to come across it," Severus shouted, tossing the box to the floor.

Harry stared at the box, dented now on the corner from the impact with the floor. Stupid though the idea had undoubtedly been, his heart had been in it, and now it was tossed away like so much rubbish. "Fine," he said quietly. "It was a stupid present anyway." He waved his hand and sent it to the bin before standing up and walking to the door.

"Where are you going?"

"It's Thursday. I'm going to say goodbye," he said. It had been a split-second decision, but it felt like it was the best decision possible under the circumstances.

"They're not your friends," Severus said. "This is not your life, Harry. Do you plan to appeal to them to try and convince me to go back to Britain? Get them in your little pep squad? I swear to you if they start that shit, I'll fucking leave here sooner!" Severus shouted, standing up from the sofa.

"Is that some sort of a threat?" he cried indignantly.

Severus face fell in shock before hardening into a stubborn glare. He lifted his chin up and managed to stare down his nose at Harry even from across the room.

Harry gave a mirthless laugh. "Do you think it really matters if you decide to kill yourself tomorrow or in six months?" His indignant anger suddenly froze to cold rage. He had to go before he did something he'd regret. Harry turned, grabbing his coat and went to the door.


"Do you think this is easy for me?" he said, pressing his forehead to the door. "Do you really think I want to leave you? I have no choice, Severus. I have-"

"You have children," the man said, spitting out the word like it held a bad taste.

Harry turned to look at him. "I have children," he agreed. "And furthermore, I can't live here cloaked in anonymity for the rest of my life. I won't just cut everyone off and disappear, and frankly, I wouldn't like to run away from my past forever. Look how well it's worked for you," he said coldly.

The words worked like magic to incite rage which coloured the man's face and caused the vein in his temple to bulge. "Get out," Severus hissed. "Take your things with you."

Harry stared a moment before shaking his head. He stepped back into the room and summoned his trunk. He'd not packed yet, having decided to put it off until tomorrow, when he'd have to accept that he really did have to leave the man. He could only now vaguely remember the reason behind his reluctance.

He chucked everything he found haphazardly into his trunk. The books he'd bought. His toiletries. The knickers he'd discarded that afternoon when Severus had come up for a quick fuck between clients. As he packed, the absurdity of the entire argument sank in. He was certain Severus didn't want him to go. He was equally certain that the man was deliberately fighting with him to avoid acknowledging his fear of loss; to avoid facing the only real option left to him.

But Harry had grown tired of fighting. Furthermore, he was sick to death of always having to be the one who forced the man to acknowledge his feelings. To name that which the man avoided talking about. He'd hated it when Ginny did that to him. When she would wait until he was at the verge of sleep, cornered in bed with no hope of escape, to begin discussing all that was wrong with us. It was not his role and not a role he wanted to adopt. If Severus couldn't decide on his own that his place was with Harry, Harry didn't need him there.

Harry shrunk and pocketed his trunk and turned to the door without a glance in the other man's direction. His heart raged with panic. This was it. There was no turning back. If Harry left things like this, everything would be lost. His entire body seized up as his fingers brushed the doorknob. His head pressed into the door, desperately waiting for any indication that the man cared at all. The slightest cue would have been enough.

Nothing came. It was better this way. A break, of sorts. It wasn't a satisfying end, but it was closure. If Severus wasn't willing to stop him, it meant that he'd already decided on the course he would take. He wasn't returning to Britain. His love for Harry wasn't greater than his fear of the past. Best to rip the plaster off quickly and cleanly. Harry knew he would regret having left things like this – angry and hurt. He was absolutely certain he would revisit this one moment in the months to come and wish he'd done something differently. But why did it always have to fall to him to save things? As his legs regained the capacity to move again, his hand turned the knob. "I love you," Harry said. He paused, the barest of instances, clinging to futile hope.

And then he left.

Chapter Text

Severus was ill.

It began the moment Harry left. A tickle in the back of his throat, his eyes welling with rheumy tears, and then without warning, his nose filling with snot. It was as though Harry's parting words worked like a curse to make Severus even more miserable than he'd made himself.

He'd stayed up late, expecting the man to return. To make everything right again, as only he could. When two o'clock came and went, it became clear that Harry wasn't coming back.

Severus went to work the next day, despite the plague Harry had set on him. The morning passed, and Harry hadn't come back. Not to say goodbye. Not to convince him to return to Britain. Not even to spit on him for being the bastard he undoubtedly was. When Mrs Bishop told Theda that Severus had no business working in the state that he was in, Theda cancelled his afternoon appointments and got her mother to come and persuade Severus to go to bed.

Going to bed proved to be distinctly unhelpful, crowded as it was with memories of that which Severus had tried to avoid thinking about. In the end, he got up again, intent on moving to the sofa where he could at least numb his brain with one of the countless DVDs that David had left him. He gathered his discarded tissues and carried them to the bin. The shiny purple paper mocked him from inside. A teal ribbon was tied neatly around it. Severus sneered and dumped a load of snotty tissue on top of it.

He watched Monty Python films all afternoon and found himself laughing inanely. The first time he'd watched them he recalled wondering vaguely how anyone could find such infantile humour funny, and spent most of the time staring dubiously at his guffawing partner. He reasoned that this time, the slapstick and unsophisticated innuendo tickled the despair churning inside him.

Or it may have been the potions.

As the day wore on, his cold got worse. He couldn't breathe though his nose, and his mouth was increasingly dry. The dryness only caused his throat to ache more and by evening, he thought if Harry had come back, he'd have hexed him for spreading his disease. Spreading his disease and then leaving, after he'd promised to take care of Severus. He gave a passing thought to the anti-congestion salve, but he didn't think he could stand the smell or the memories that came with it.

A knock on the door proved to be less a request for admittance than a warning of impending invasion. The door opened, and Theda strode in, carrying a package of herbs and a Tupperware bowl.

"Go away," Severus croaked. He'd been watching a programme where an overenthusiastic woman in spandex seemed to be selling some sort of fitness video. Muscled men in tight pants did squats at regular intervals.

Theda poured water in the electric kettle and flipped it on. The air filled with the roaring noise of water being heated. "Susan sent some soup," Theda said. "How are you feeling?"

Severus grunted. It made his head pound. "Just leave it."

Theda snorted. "I can't. I've been nominated to come here and keep you company," she said. "Susan said I'm the least likely to be wounded by your callousness."

"I don't care for company," Severus growled. Or would have growled. It came out sounding rather squeaky.

"I know." Theda sighed, and carried on doing what she was doing. Severus watched men do squats until Theda stood in front of him, proffering a cup of steamy liquid and another mug of soup. She sat down uninvited at the end of the sofa. "What the hell are you watching?" she said in disgust.

Severus flipped over and landed on a programme about lions. He stared and let the sound wipe his brain of thought.

"Did you like your gift?" Theda asked after a moment.

"I make this tea. It's hardly a gift if it comes from my stores," Severus croaked and then sipped the fragrant liquid.

"Harry's gift," Theda said.

Severus turned to glare at her. "What do you know of it?" he demanded.

She looked at him and shrugged. "Josh drew it," she said. "Didn't Harry tell you?"

He might have done if Severus had opened it. A lot of things might have been different had he just accepted whatever ridiculously sentimental rubbish Harry had saw fit to torture him with. Not for the first time in his life, Severus wondered what the hell was wrong with him. For all he clung to his notion of self-control, he often found himself in the position of watching himself wreck everything from the sidelines with no ability to stop the inevitable catastrophe. "It must have slipped his mind."

"May I see it?" Theda asked.

"No," Severus said.

"Why not?"

Severus gave her an irritable look, for all the good it did him. "I don't have it," he lied.

Theda frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I don't care to discuss it," Severus said firmly. "You should go."

Theda gave a frustrated sigh and stared at the screen. "You two fought again, didn't you?"


"You fight a lot," she pointed out. Severus ignored the comment and refrained from telling her that fighting made up the very foundation of their history together. His throat was too sore to make it worthwhile. "Did you know that a lion's roar can be heard from like, five miles away?"


"I didn't know you had a thing for snakes," Theda said.

Severus blinked. "What makes you think I have a thing for snakes?"

"Harry told us," Theda said.

Severus frowned. "It was the symbol of my House at school," Severus explained. It occurred to him witha sickening feeling that he was watching a programme regarding the symbol of Gryffindor, and he changed the channel again. A clone of the overenthusiastic woman from the squatting men programme was trying to sell him a vacuum. He watched dully as an equally enthusiastic, squeaky clean man dumped a potted plant onto a square of carpet.

"Oh," Theda said. "I thought it might have been because you were bitten by one."

Severus snorted. "Wouldn't it rather make a person go off them?" he said.

Theda shrugged. "You survived," she noted. "It might have been a symbol for beating the odds, right?"

"Hm," Severus conceded. He tried to sniff up the wetness from his nose, but no air could pass. He picked up a used tissue and rubbed it.

"People with noses like yours should avoid getting sick," Theda said laughing. "If your nose gets any redder, Santa will ask you to pull his sleigh."

Severus glared. "Has anyone ever told you, you're charming?"

She laughed incredulously. "No."

"Perhaps there's a good reason for that," Severus finished.

"Ha. Ha," she said blandly. "You're not exactly Prince Charming either," she pointed out. "What did you do to piss Harry off? It must have been something really bad if he didn't even give you your gift. He's been working on it all week."

Severus suppressed a stir of curiosity for the unopened package in the bin. An irrepressible , self-destructive, sadistic side of him toyed with the idea of shipping it back to the man unopened, if only to drive the knife in further.

"I refused his gift," Severus admitted. "I saw it as another ploy to get me to move back to Britain."

She gave him a strange look. "Really? I thought it was a kink thing," she said, shrugging.

"A kink thing," Severus repeated. His mind went back to New York. To the bag he'd forgotten about. To Harry's secretive smile and promise to reveal the contents "later."

"You might be right, actually," Theda said. "That would make more sense. I mean... why would you need two?"

Resistance was futile. He'd look at the damned thing sooner or later if only to torment himself, which, after all, was his favourite pastime. Severus pulled himself off the sofa and walked to his bin, reaching in among the used tissues to pull out the box.

"You threw it away?" she said incredulously. "God, Hadrian. That's pretty callous, even for you," she said.

"Harry threw it away," Severus sneered as he sat back down. He stared at the package in his hands. He recalled Harry's increasing discomfort as he waited for Severus to open it. The series of disclaimers aimed to make the gift mean less than it so obviously did.

"Are you going to open it?" Theda asked, sliding close.

"I'm not certain I should," Severus said. "I lost him over this stupid box." It was not exactly true. He lost him because he was too careless to keep him. Too fearful. Too stupid. Too selfish. Too stubborn. His brain went about enumerating his many character flaws as he stared down at the thing.

"He'll come back," Theda said. "He's like Josh. They understand that we can't help being who we are."

Severus shook his head. "You and I are not alike, Theda. You might inadvertently hurt people, but you mean no harm. I aim to kill," Severus said.


"I don't know," he said honestly. He sighed deeply and pulled the ribbon off the package, ripping through the paper to reveal a white box beneath. The white box opened to reveal a velvet black box, and Severus thought if the last contained yet another box, he really would ship the stupid thing back to Britain. When he opened the velvet box, however, he saw two collars overlapping. Each attached to one single silver disc on which a symbol had been engraved. The symbol was an Ouroboros curled into the sign of infinity wrapped around a lightning bolt.

"He came down to ask me if I knew how to draw," Theda said with a laugh. "I sent him over to the tattoo parlour to see Josh. It looks pretty cool, huh? I don’t know where he got the engraving done, but they did an amazing job in a day."


Severus snorted and lifted one of the collars. The seemingly seamless silver disc split instantly in two to form two jigsaw pieces dangling from each of the collar.

"Wow, I didn't even see that before," Theda said in wonder. "You couldn't even tell the metal had been cut." Severus dropped the collar into the box and closed the lid quickly, lest it prove to have any other magical properties that he'd be unable to explain. "Do you think it was meant to try to get you back to Britain?"

"Perhaps," Severus said miserably. But he now doubted it. "It's entirely possible that the only motive he had was sentimental."

"You can apologise," Theda pointed out.

Severus shook his head. "I wouldn't even know where to begin," he said sullenly. "It might be better this way," he added. "Harry has been living in limbo for the past twenty years. Holding to some futile hope that we might be together someday will only keep him from moving on. It's kinder to let him go."

"Why don't you want to move back?" Theda asked.

Severus shook his head. "The only reason I'd go back is him. But he has a life. He's got a family. He has children, and I simply do not fit into all of that."

"Why do you have to?" Theda asked.

Severus gave her a bland look. "They're a part of him."

"You're a part of him, too. I mean, isn't that what the collar thing's about?" She shrugged. "He's divorced, right? The kids would probably stay with the mother. He'd have them over every now and again, but it's not like you have to live with him. You could just stay away if it bothers you that much."

Severus frowned, absently stroking the black box.

"I guess you have to the end of the year to think about it," she said.

"Why the end of the year?" Severus said, puzzled.

"That's what Harry said. My mom asked him if he'd convinced you to go back yet. He said that he thought it was a lost cause but that he'd give you till the end of the year to decide," she reported.

"When did he say that?" Severus asked.

"When he came to say goodbye last night. He also told us not to say anything to you about it," she said, wrinkling her nose apologetically. "I shouldn't have said anything. He said it was your decision to make. I guess if you two fought after that, then maybe he's changed his mind," she said.

"I kicked him out," Severus confessed. "Just before he saw you."

Theda laughed. "Wow, Hadrian. You take self-harming to a whole other level."

Severus couldn't help but think her observation was more astute than she could ever possibly know.


"So what happened?" Ginny said, raising her head from the table when Harry entered the kitchen after putting the kids to bed.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, not managing the puzzled look he was going for.

"You look more miserable now than you did when you left," she pointed out.

"I'm not miserable," Harry said. "I'm knackered." He yawned to prove it, and then summoned a glass. He poured a measure of wine.

"So why America?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "Why not?"

"Do anything fun?" The sly smile that accompanied the question defined what she meant by fun.

Harry laughed. "Maybe," he said coyly. "I went to a fetish show in New York," he told her. "Discovered new and exciting uses for anti-congestion salves, engaged in group sex, fell in love, had my heart broken and then came home. Not bad for two weeks, eh?"

She gave him a doubtful look. He'd lost her at group sex. "You went to America, did the tourist thing, and lurked under your invisibility cloak in gay bars, watching other men dance, didn't you?"

"Do you really think me so pathetic?" Harry asked, feigning injury.

"Yes," Ginny said. "Oh, Harry."

"I didn't bring my cloak," Harry insisted. "How have things been here?"

She gave him a look of frustration before letting the subject drop in favour of filling him in on what happened while he was gone. If Harry were to summarise the story she gave, he'd have said, "Nothing much happened." He was impressed at the level of detail Ginny could give about nothing at all. His mind wandered halfway through a story about a trip to the apothecary across the road to fetch ointment for a mysterious bite on Albus' leg. It stretched across the globe to Severus, who, he was certain, felt at least as wretched as Harry himself. The thought only made Harry angrier at the man. The spike of anger left him feeling wearier than before.

Harry had been wavering between anger and weariness for the better part of twenty-four hours now. He'd held himself together long enough to say goodbye to the Coven, sliding in a suggestion that they should abandon their quest to convince Severus to return home. He did his best to appear unaffected so as not to give Severus any chance to accuse him of trying to manipulate him through his friends. He even made it sound as though he might see them again soon, even if, when he said goodbye, he knew it was for good.

He couldn't help but wonder if Severus would try and write. If he'd eventually come to his senses enough to apologise for being a stubborn, hateful prick. He wondered, furthermore, how he'd respond. If he'd respond. He had a different answer to those questions every time he thought about them.

For someone who claimed to despise drama, Severus certainly knew how to conjure it from thin air.

The bastard.


Harry blinked. "Hm?"

Ginny frowned. "I said that Rose and Hugo would be staying over tomorrow night. Ron and Hermione are going away."

Harry nodded. "All right," he said.

"Go to bed," Ginny told him.

Harry nodded and went.


Harry's face gave him a cool smile from the cover of the paper, which featured an interview with Britain's newest head of the MLE. As Severus read through the interview, he had a hard time hearing Harry's voice in the sterile, diplomatic words. There was nothing of Harry's charm in the quotes attributed to him. Nothing of his warmth and easy humour. The man answered curtly and succinctly the questions posed to him. He went on about his plan to add more staff to the Muggle Crime Unit. He detailed his intention to up recruiting efforts, working closely with Hogwarts to entice new students to the program. It was a dry and frankly, boring interview that left Severus dissatisfied.

At the end of the interview, the reporter predictably asked Harry, the celebrity, if he had anyone special in his life. It was only then that Severus could practically see the cold smile on his face and hear the barely contained anger in his voice. "If I had someone special in my life, you would be the last person I would tell."

"Come on, Harry. Your fans are eager to know what your plans are."

"I can tell you that all of my energy is concentrated on turning the MLE around. There's a lot of work to do, and I simply do not have the time to devote to worrying about who my date will be for the next Ministry function."

The ending commentary of the reporter pointed out that Harry was still living with his ex-wife and hadn't been seen with anyone since his secret affair with a Muggle club owner was revealed by the Prophet in October.

"Wow, he lives!" Susan exclaimed in mock wonder.

Severus quickly closed the paper and slid it under the rest of his post. "You saw me yesterday," he pointed out blandly.

"I wasn't sure you were still capable of leaving the building," she said wryly. "Does this mean you're better?"

"Better than what?"

She gave him a long look. "I know you miss him," she said. "It's ok to admit it, you know. No one will think any less of you," she said.

"He was always going to leave, Susan," Severus said in a frank tone. "I enjoyed having him here while he was here. And now he's gone back to his life. Try not to make it bigger than it is."

She gave him an irritated look. "None of us would make a big deal of it, Hadrian, if you weren't walking around like the sun had gone out. I'm your friend, and I worry because that's what friends do. I don't like to see you in, pain and before you insist you're not, I'll remind you that I've seen you through enough pain to see through the cranky facade."

Severus glared at a spot of dried coffee on the table. "I've been busy."

"You've been moping."

"I don't mope," he insisted, and bristled at the incredulous laughter.

"Have you talked to him since he left?"

Severus shook his head. "He's busy with his new job," he said.

"You should call him, Hadrian. Sometimes it helps to just hear their voices." He'd told no one but Theda about his row with the man and he'd asked Theda not to say anything. He gathered now that she'd respected his wishes.

"Perhaps," he said.

"Theda said you've been showing her around the greenhouses," Susan said, mercifully changing the subject.

Severus nodded. He liked to think of it as Phase One of his escape plan. They'd spent every evening over the past three weeks and most mornings before the shop opened getting the greenhouses in shape again. Theda was fastidiously making notes in regards to watering schedules, the best times to harvest each individual plant, how best to prune them and how to dry and store the herbs. She was as quick a study as ever. "I suspect she'll be managing them completely by summer," he said.

"She's a clever lady," Susan said, smiling. "Without your greenhouses, what will you do in your free time?

"Perhaps I'll take up knitting," Severus said blandly. "I'm sure I'll find ways to fill the time." In truth, it was a very good question. The greenhouses were his place of peace. However bad things got, he could always attain a certain level of calm there. Lately, the greenhouses had kept him from drinking himself to death.

"You can always come over and tame my garden," Susan offered.

"Is that some sort of euphemism?" he asked with a suggestively raised eyebrow.

Susan laughed and shook her head. "You know. We miss you when you're gone," she told him. "Come by this week."

"We'll see," Severus said, standing and gathering his post. "I've a nine o'clock appointment," he explained and leant down to kiss the woman on the cheek.

"If you don't come to us, we'll start holding the meetings at your flat," she threatened.

"Over my dead body," he insisted. "See you soon."

Severus didn't go the next Thursday. Nor did he attend the Thursday after that. He was sure to see each member of the coven briefly through the week. Lunch with Susan. Coffee with Mary. The occasional chat with Anna at the Pizzeria. By the third week after his conversation with Susan, he'd found a reasonable excuse to be away every Thursday night. He enrolled in a French course that met Tuesday and Thursday nights. He had no particular burning desire to learn French, but the timing of the lessons conveniently fit into Phase Two: phase out.

If he were to leave with a relatively clean break, he needed to ease out of their lives quietly. Like Rebecca, a former member of the Coven, had done when she moved to Austin to teach. They heard from her regularly at first, but slowly the news came infrequently until she became nothing more than a Christmas card once a year. Knowing him as these women did, they would probably know not to expect a Christmas card.

The women were disappointed to learn that he'd not be joining them on their ritual Thursday nights, but they all expressed happiness that he was getting out of his flat and taking an interest in something outside of work. What Susan had referred to as moping, was in reality a studious gathering of resolve and strategic planning. By September, he would announce his intention to move back to Oregon, where he'd spent a few months prior to moving to Boulder. He would write emails to the various members a few months after his supposed move and then stop.

Severus had grown tired of his own indecision. He'd grown tired, full stop. But now a cold sense of purpose had set in. His time in Boulder was coming to an end.


"Moving?" Ginny asked weakly. Her glass had halted halfway to her mouth.

Harry took a deep breath. "Not right away," Harry said. "I'll stay at least until Al goes to school."

"But what about Lily?"

Harry lowered his eyes to his folded hands. "I'm not going far, Gin. Just a little outside of the city. We'll sort out a schedule that works best for everyone. There will be rooms there for the children and, well even you and Dylan if you want to get out of the city for a bit. It's just ..." Harry sighed.

"You want to move on," Ginny said.

Harry shook his head. "Whatever that means," he muttered. "But I think I need to make a start."

Ginny snorted softly and set her glass on the table, twirling it between her fingers by the stem. "I feel like we're breaking up all over again," she said with a small, sad smile.

"I know," Harry said sympathetically. "Me, too. But the place needs a lot of work. It's not even habitable at the moment; so, we've got months. And even after it's finished, I reckon I'll be here more than you want me to be." He offered over a half-hearted smile of reassurance.

The truth was he was terrified. The closest he'd come to living alone was when Ginny was touring with the Harpies, and he'd been miserable then. This flat was his home. It had been their home since James was a year old. Piled throughout was the clutter of the years. It was packed full of memories that would now have to be divided up, and that was heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking, but necessary. Harry wasn't getting any younger. He was a man nearing forty. He was the head of the MLE and responsible for the protection of the entire British Wizarding world. It was time, Harry thought, to grow up. He'd told himself over the past year that he was staying for the children. The truth was that he stayed because it was easier than leaving. He clung to the comfort of familiarity, to the safety of family.

"This is good," Ginny said after a long moment. Her face took on the firm expression of absolute confidence. "This is good for you," she added. "Maybe it will inspire you to meet people. To get out."

"That's not why I'm going, Gin," Harry protested. "That's the furthest thing from my mind right now."

Ginny nodded. "Exactly. And why? Because you're not lonely enough. With us around, you're emotionally set up, Harry. As you're emotionally sated, you don't really go out meeting people. Unless you do that, you can't make an emotional connection, and if you don't make the emotional connection, you can't sleep with anyone."

Harry stared uncomprehendingly as his mind tried to puzzle through her logic. As often happened in these situations, his first instinct was to tell her she was mental and dismiss her observations as such. And as usual, on second thought, he could see her point, but refused to acknowledge it. "It's not why I'm going," he insisted. "I have enough going on with work at the moment. I scarcely have time to be a proper father."

Ginny frowned. "You know, Harry, the benefit of being the boss is that you have others to work on your behalf," she said. She looked at him thoughtfully. "When was the last time you had any fun at all? Just good, stupid fun?" She shook her head. "You know, scratch that. When was the last time you enjoyed anything at all?"

"I enjoy being with the kids every day," Harry insisted. "I enjoy tucking them in and talking about their days. I enjoy being with you. I like my job. I enjoy what I do and the small differences I make." Her blank stare told him he'd not yet convinced her. "I enjoyed going to the Harpies match," he pointed out.

"You spent most of the time playing on your phone and the rest of the time avoiding the reporters," Ginny pointed out. "When was the last time you had sex?"

Harry's face fell. Flashes of images from his last time with Severus sprang to mind. It was too quick. Too rushed. He'd had twenty minutes between clients, and they both imagined they'd have the evening to make up for it. Except that they spent the evening fighting. A stupid fight over a stupid gift that was now buried in some landfill with the rest of the rubbish – along with any hope he had left. He clenched his jaw, took a deep breath and then exhaled, letting the images and Severus disappear in a cloud of smoke. "I don't want to talk about this."

"Haytham," Ginny said. "Right?"

"Ginny, that was ages ago. It's old news. Leave it alone," he said with a hint of warning.

"Is he still plagued by classical music?" she prodded.


Ginny's face grew sympathetic. "Call him, Harry," she said.

"I'm going to bed," Harry said, standing.

"Harry, you're miserable. You've become this sort of zombie who goes through the motions of life without living it. You're even worse than you were when we were married. The last time I remember seeing you smile – properly smile – you'd just had your love life splattered all over the Prophet. And despite all of that, as soon as you rang Haytham, you smiled. A proper, glowing, Witch's Weekly smile. I just want you to be happy, Harry."

Harry's patience broke. "I don't need sex to be happy," he growled angrily. "I don't need some stupid, hopeless infatuation. I'm happy with my career. I'm happy with my children. I'm bloody ecstatic. Leave my fucking love life alone."

"What fucking love life?" Ginny shouted back as Harry stormed out the kitchen and into his bedroom. He stopped himself before slamming the door, mindful of the children sleeping upstairs. Instead he clicked the door shut softly and made up for his loss of momentum by throwing himself violently on his narrow bed.

He wasn't going to think about this. He was through thinking about this. He was a fucking adult, for fuck's sake, and it was time he started behaving like one. Adults didn't go around mooning over what might have been. Haytham was a vague, bittersweet memory. Severus was a deep, dark abyss that he didn't let his mind go near. Harry was done with all of it.

He should have been done with it years ago. There were plenty of people who lived long, full lives without complicating it with unnecessary romance. Albus Dumbledore, by all reports, hadn't had a lover since Grindelwald – and no one could say that his life wasn't meaningful. Harry had a family. He'd known love. He'd had the briefest glimpse of perfection, and that was more than many had. It was enough.

It was enough, Harry told himself firmly. His mind went about the exercise of counting his blessings until the emotional turmoil stilled.


"French classes?" Harry said, dumbfounded. "Well, that's ... er, good?" he followed uncomprehendingly.

"Do you want to talk to him?" Theda asked.

"I just wanted to ... see if he was ..."

"Still alive?" Theda supplied.

Harry snorted. "Well," he corrected, although he thought she might have come closer to the truth. "To see if he was well."

"I think he's well," Theda said. "We don't see him very often, but he's not locking himself in his office or his flat. He's actually out all the time now."

He was supposed to feel relieved that Severus was all right. By all reports, the man was more than all right. He was better than he'd been since before David died. He'd clearly moved on. "That's really good," Harry said quietly. "Great," he added. Surprising, but great. He couldn't help but feel slightly doubtful. "Has he talked about leaving at all?" he asked.

"No," Theda answered. "I know he kicked you out that last night," she said. "If it helps, I think he regretted it later."

Harry grunted.

"Do you want to talk to him? I can call him out of his appointment," Theda offered.

"I don't want to talk to him," Harry said. "I mean... I have to go. I just wanted to check. Don't tell him I called, all right?"


"Because he sounds like he's sorted everything out. It will only upset him," Harry said.

"He dug your present out of the trash and opened it," she said. "It was really cool the way you cut the disc in half like that. You couldn't even tell they were two pieces."

"You were there when he opened it?" Harry asked incredulously. He cringed at the thought of what she might have seen. He'd showed it to her after he'd set it in the box, but there were certain charms that activated upon contact.

"Yeah. It was the day you left for Britain. He caught your cold. I brought him tea and soup."

"What did he say?"

"He told me to go away," Theda said.

"About the gift," Harry clarified.

"Oh. Nothing, really. He just looked at it a long time and then closed the box."

Harry could picture the look on the man's face. He could see it as clearly as if it were his own memory.

"I think he liked it," she tried. "I would have liked it," she added.

"Thanks," Harry said. "It was really nice talking to you, Theda."

"OK. You're sure you don't want to talk to him?"

He'd never been more certain of anything in his life. "I'm positive. Take care."



"So I heard that Harry called Theda," Susan said, slipping in the subject with a casual tone. Suddenly the impromptu lunch invite took on a whole new meaning.

Severus stared as he tried to will his startled heart to calm. "She didn't tell me," he said at last. "When?"

"Last week some time," Susan said. "Apparently he asked her not to say anything to you."

"But she told you," Severus said, frowning.

"No. She told Mary. Mary told me." She gave him a concerned look. "I thought you'd been in touch with him."

"I never said that," Severus said stiffly.

Susan gave him an annoyed look. "But you've told me he was well. And that he was busy reforming law enforcement in Britain," she pointed out.

"I have other sources of information," Severus said.

"What other sources?"

"I read the news," he grumbled. "What did he say?" he asked begrudgingly.

"According to Mary, he only wanted to know how you were. Are you two fighting?"

Severus shook his head. "We're not speaking," he said. "How could we possibly be fighting?"

She rolled her eyes. "And you're not speaking because..."

"He's angry that I won't move back to Britain," Severus said. "We rowed about it, and he left." Severus grew irritated at the dismayed look on the woman's face. This was none of her concern. Of course, she'd only argue with him if he told her that. "It's not the first time we've argued, Susan. It will work itself out," he said.

"Do you have a magic wand?"

Severus' eyes widened. "A magic wand," he repeated.

"I don't know how else you'll sort things out without talking to him. However angry he is, it's obvious that he still cares enough to check up on you," she pointed out.

"But not enough to talk to me," Severus retorted. "We'll be fine, Susan. He and I are locked in an endless cycle of dispute and forgiveness. Trust me," he said.

She gave him an irritatingly maternal look but nodded.

"I have some news of my own," Severus said. "I've been in contact with an old acquaintance of mine. He has a clinic in Oregon and is in need of someone with my expertise to fill a gap," he lied smoothly.

"You're leaving?"

Severus nodded. "It will take me a couple of months to finish up a few things here," he said. "But I've accepted the offer. I feel I need to make a new start," he finished.

"What about Theda?" Susan said. "Your clients."

"The shop will go to Theda. I planned to speak to her about it this afternoon," Severus said. "I have composed a referral list for my clients. I'm by no means irreplaceable," he said with a wry smile. He could see the hurt behind her stunned expression, and it sliced him through with guilt. "Susan, it's a great opportunity for me. As much as I will surely miss all of you, it's painful for me to be here. My heart is torn between my memory of David and my love for Harry, and I need distance from both at the moment if I have any hope of moving on. This came along at precisely the right moment."

She cared for him, of course, and therefore wanted him to be happy. She couldn't be hurt if Severus was leaving in order to heal. She, of all people, couldn't begrudge him that. Severus' admission worked exactly as he knew it would. He hated himself for the deception. A cruel but necessary strike. "We'll throw you a party," she said and then sniffed wetly.


"Why didn't you tell me he called?" Severus demanded, standing close to the counter and glaring furiously down at the dumbstruck woman.

"Who?" she said uncertainly. "No one called."

"Harry," Severus insisted. "You talked to him."

"Oh. He didn't want you to know," she said flatly.

"Apparently he had no problem with everyone but me knowing," Severus raged.

"I only told mom," Theda said.

"And I learned it from Susan. Damn it, Theda, if anyone calls here asking about me, I demand to know about it, is that clear?"

"It was only Harry," Theda said defensively. "He asked me not to tell you. He said it sounded like you were doing well, and it would only upset you. Clearly he was right."

"I'm not upset that he called. I'm upset you kept it from me," Severus pointed out. He was upset he didn't get to speak to him. He was upset that Harry didn't want to talk to him. Upset, and infinitely grateful.

Theda stared at him, expressionless. Her eyes were wide and waiting.

"What did he say?"

"He asked me how you were," she said.

"And you said?"

"I told him you seemed to be well. I said you were studying French and going out a lot. He was happy for you." Not bloody likely, Severus thought, but he could be sure that Harry had said as much. "He asked me if you'd mentioned leaving, and I told him you hadn't. I offered to go and get you so he could talk to you, Hadrian, but he didn't want to," she insisted.

Severus nodded. "If he calls again, I want to know about it," he said. He wasn't certain how true that was. He'd been rather blissfully labouring under the delusion that Harry's silence meant he was through caring. He understood now how flawed that reasoning was. He'd always understood that, if he were honest, but it did no good to acknowledge it.

It could be a good thing, really. If Harry were under the impression that Severus had moved on, it might motivate the other man to do the same. He imagined Harry was supremely irritated to learn that Severus wasn't brooding over him; hurt that he had been so easily forgotten. It was for the best.

"I have something I want to discuss with you when you're through. Come upstairs when you've closed up."


Theda stared unblinkingly at the contract. She wasn't reading it. When her eyes moved, it was to look up at Severus. "You're giving it to me?" she said. "Why?"

"Because you run it anyway. I'll ask you to make me an offer on the building itself, but the business has been yours for the better part of two years now. If you wanted, you could rent out the clinic space. Or even hire on a massage therapist once I've gone," Severus suggested.

She nodded. "Why Oregon?" she asked.

"I lived there briefly before coming here. It's where I picked up my American credentials. And there's an opportunity there, with an already full client roster. It's a way for me to start over without having to start from scratch," he explained in a reasonable tone.

"Why not England?"

Severus gave her a stern look. "I believe we've already discussed this, and I won't talk about it now. I've made my decision, Theda. Now go home, talk to Josh and your mom and let me know what you can offer for the building." He wouldn't exactly need the money, but it would look too suspicious if he were to just give the building to her.

Theda gave him a long look, and he could see her struggling to censor her thoughts. She must have won the battle because she nodded curtly and stood to walk to the door. She turned abruptly. "You're going to tell him, aren't you?" Severus was taken aback at the fierce look in the woman's eyes. "Or are you planning on making him sit around waiting for you until the end of the year?"

"I made it clear to him I wasn't going back to Britain, Theda."

"Then why is he calling here asking me if you're talking about leaving?" she challenged him.

Severus had a pretty good idea of the motivation behind that question, but he wasn't going to share it with the woman. He'd made no plans to tell Harry. He couldn't tell Harry because the man would see right through his story of moving to Oregon. Harry would know, even if no one else did, precisely what leaving Boulder would mean.

The man would eventually find out. He would hate Severus, but Severus could no longer think about that. It was his life. His choice. Harry would move on. He'd eventually meet someone suitable and be happy. He knew the man would be hurt when he worked it all out – as he undoubtedly would. He'd be devastated, but he would also recover. It was the kindest thing to do for him. As long as Severus remained in the world, Harry would always hold him in the back of his mind.

He couldn't tell Harry, above all, because if he did, all of his justifications would be blown to pieces.

"He's still hoping," Theda said. "You can't leave him hanging like that. If you don't tell him, I will. Mom has his number."

"I wasn't aware you'd become Harry's champion," Severus said acidly. "The matter doesn't concern you, Theda, but if it puts your mind at ease, I'll make sure he understands."

She glared at him a moment longer before turning without a word.


"Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."

Harry had spent years referring to Severus in the past tense. He'd long since ceased thinking about it. As he bent down to reassure his son, telling him of his legendary namesake, a shiver of dread rushed through him, stunning him momentarily.

"But just say - "

"- then Slytherin house will have gained an excellent student, won't it ..."

And Severus would get a right good laugh, Harry thought. He could clearly picture the man receiving news that Harry's son had been sorted into Slytherin. He could hear the deep, resounding, ironic laugh. It was a long shot, of course. The boy came from a very long line of Gryffindor on both sides of his family tree, and even if that weren't the case, his terror of being sorted into that house would convince the sorting hat to put him elsewhere.

If Albus got sorted into Slytherin, Harry decided, Harry would break his resolute silence to send Severus the news.

"Why are they all staring?"

"Don't let it worry you," said Ron. "It's me. I'm extremely famous."

Harry shot Ron an amused look and watched his young son board the train. He raised his hand in answer to the frantic waving from the window. His other hand moved to his forehead.

He'd been on this platform every year since Teddy went off to school. Last year, when they'd come to see off James, his heart had broken a little. He worried about James, of course. But mostly he worried that James would get himself expelled. The boy had taken after his uncle George, and while Harry truly loved his mischievous character, as a parent, he worried about the trouble it would cause the boy.

Al was different. He didn't have the same level of blind confidence that James had. He didn't have the same thick skin as James. Albus was gentle, sensitive and a little naive. At the sight of Malfoy's little brat, he couldn't suppress the feeling that he needed to shield the boy from all the cruelty in the world. To try and preserve the boy's open and trusting spirit.

"He'll be all right," murmured Ginny.

Harry nodded. Of course, he'd be fine. Thousands of children had passed before him. Albus wasn't any more or any less vulnerable than any of them. But he was Harry's, and Harry saw himself in the boy's green eyes. He saw himself as he might have been had he grown up with his own mother and father.

Two children away now, and the third was increasingly eager to join them. With them went his one source of joy. The summer had gone by far too quickly. He'd spent what time he could with the children. Teddy was over most nights, and so Harry's days had been filled. Sitting together at the dinner table, night after night, he could almost feel as though they were still a family. As though they might go on like this forever. Even when he went to monitor the progress on the new house, it had seemed like such a distant future that it didn't really bear thinking about.

Now, the house was nearing completion, two of three children were away, and Harry was slowly watching all that had enriched his life seep from it, leaving his future bleak and colourless.

"All right, mate?" Ron asked, clapping Harry on the back.

Harry smiled the practised smile of an expert at deflection. "Yeah. Just remembering the first time I was on that train," he lied.

"Mad, isn't it?" Ron said. "When I think what we did our first year alone," he shook his head.

Harry laughed. "I know."

Ron squeezed his shoulder. "It's a much safer world now, right?" Ron said. "I mean, it makes you realise that we made this world better. And because of that, our kids get to be normal eleven-year-olds. We did that, Harry. And we'd been doing it since we were that small," he said, nodding toward the train that was now out of sight. He stared into the distance a long moment before shaking his reverie away. "You're still doing it," he said, offering Harry a broad grin. "I always knew you were a little mental."

Harry laughed. "It's my saving people thing," he said with a shrug.

"You should see someone about that, mate. May get you killed someday," Ron said jokingly. "Do you want to come to the house for lunch?"

For the first time in a long time, Harry really did. The reminder that whatever else happened, Harry had made the world safer for his children served to give his spirits a much needed boost. "I'd love to, but I have to get to the office. I have a meeting." He offered a contrite expression. "Maybe we can meet for a pint later in the week?"

"No worries."

Harry accompanied the others out and waved as he turned toward the Ministry, and walked into a morning that was a tad brighter than it had been moments before.


21 September 2017

Dear Harry,

By the time you read this, I'll have left Boulder. I think you've realised by now that I'm not returning to Britain. There is no reason I can possibly give to you that you wouldn't have an argument against. As wary as I am of confronting the seething, deceived public, I'd have done it if I thought, in the end, I'd have you.

You have a family, Harry. A life surrounding you into which I simply do not fit. Together, alone, you and I are perfect. However, I am not a family man. I do not see myself in a knitted jumper around the Christmas tree, laughing joyfully as hundreds of little ginger children frolic about me. Your children and your family are important to you, and I never want to put you in a position to have to choose between me and them. You will say that it would never come to that. You will tell me that if I don't want to be around them, I needn't be. I know you better. I know how much you would hate to have to leave me on randomly appointed sentimental occasions. While at first it might be a small annoyance, my reluctance to share in the largest part of your life would become the thing that kills us.

I am a coward. While I have no fear of danger, torture or death, I'm terrified of loss. I would sooner give up something dear on my own terms, than to run the risk of losing it because I'm too careless, selfish or stubborn to keep it.

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to you, but it would be neither appropriate nor kind to do so now. I am grateful to have had the chance to know you, Harry. I am forever surprised, and frankly dumbfounded, that I had your love. I wish I were more deserving of it.

You are a remarkable man. I hope when you do find love again that the man to whom you give your heart handles it more carefully than I have. You deserve better than I've given. You deserve better than I am able to give.

I request that you do not contact the Coven. I've taken great pains to make my departure as painless for them as possible. I only wish I could have done the same for you. If nothing else, I hope this final letter give you closure. It seems to me the kindest thing I can offer you after all these years.



"I think I liked the blue better," Lily said, giving her walls a critical frown.

Harry sighed and flicked his wand again. The walls became the blue of summer skies, contrasting with the gloomy grey they could see out the window. Lily gave an uncertain grunt, and Harry nearly wept. They'd gone through every conceivable colour and had it narrowed down to five, which he'd spent the past hour flipping through at her whim. "Here's an idea," he said, fighting for calm. "How about this?"

Harry waved his wand, and each wall took on one of the colours she fancied. The sky blue transferred to the ceiling. Lily's eyes lit up. "Brilliant!" she exclaimed and wrapped her arms around Harry's middle. Harry heaved a sigh of relief. "I think I want the lilac on that wall," she said after reflection. "That's where my bed will go."

Harry closed his eyes and bent down to kiss the top of her indecisive little head. "Think really hard about how you want it, and then come and get me once you've decided."

Harry left the girl's room and walked down the stairs. When he'd first come to see the place after it was finished, he was filled with a sudden burst of excitement and eagerness to begin filling the large spaces with the stuff of a new life. The bare, wooden floors and the blank walls presented themselves like an invitation to begin again. It was exactly the shot of optimism he'd needed to begin planning.

Harry's boots clod heavily against the floors, echoing down from the high domed ceilings. From the tall windows that spanned the whole front of the house, he could see only green meadows that seemed to go on forever. With Ginny's help, he'd kitted out the salon, the kitchen and dining room. His office was full of boxes that he'd get around to unpacking eventually. His bedroom now held a bed big enough for company. A bed he'd not managed to sleep in yet.

He pretended to himself that he was waiting to get at least Lily's room settled before moving in properly. He'd invited Teddy to come over later in the day to decide what he would do with the converted basement, which would serve as Teddy's apartment. Once they were settled, Harry thought, he could live here.

The real problem was that for all the stuff they'd moved into the house, it was still empty. The echoing vastness of the place, the isolation from the rest of the world, made Harry feel lonely. When he'd found the house, it was a decrepit listed building. He liked the idea of resurrecting history, of restoring a once proud estate to glory. He'd hired contractors and architects to transform the place, and the end result was magical.

But empty.

Ginny had suggested they exchange. For all she had once been adamant that she would rather die than live in the middle of nowhere like she'd done at the Burrow, having seen the house, she promptly fell in love with it. Where Harry found the wide open spaces intimidating, she embraced the clean, uncluttered rooms, the tall ceilings, the vastness of it all.

Their home in Diagon Alley was crammed with souvenirs from a life they'd built together. It reminded Harry of everything he loved about going to the Weasley's when he was a kid. The place lived and breathed and evolved, carrying with it the memories of the ages. It would take decades for this place to become a home.

The whooshing sound of the Floo caught Harry's attention. He turned to see Teddy stepping out, rubbing the soot out of his electric blue hair. His amber eyes turned toward Harry, and a smile broke out of his face. "Hiya, Harry," he said, wiping his feet on the rug set before the fireplace. The rug was the only thing in the house that looked used.

"Hey." Harry spread his arms. "What do you think?"

"It looks even bigger with furniture in it," he said, shoving his hands into his baggy jeans.

Harry couldn't help but agree. "We'll get it filled up eventually," he said. "Someday," he added with a doubtful sigh.

"You're going to have to move in first," Teddy teased.

Harry gave him a disgruntled look. "Don't be cheeky. I don't see you rushing to move in," he pointed out.

Teddy gave a sheepish look. "I feel bad about leaving Nan," he confessed. "But it's going to be great," he added with an eager smile that made Harry think of Tonks. "Where's bug?" he asked, eyes turning to the stairs. It was nickname that had evolved through the years. Lily began as ladybird, which became lilybug over time. The name had since been shortened and now, only Teddy could get away with using the name.

"She's upstairs deciding on a colour scheme," Harry explained. "I reckon she's changed her mind again," he said wearily.

Teddy laughed and started off up the stairs. Harry turned to follow and was abruptly stopped by a bell chiming. His heart clenched painfully. His hand moved to cover it. It was the sound that alerted him of a delivery to his Muggle post box. A post box reserved exclusively for his correspondence with Severus.

Part of him had been convinced that he'd never hear the sound again. The part of him that clung to ridiculous hope had steadfastly refused to consider cancelling the box. It was the part of him that so desperately wanted to believe that Mary's amateur predictions would come true that he'd convinced himself to keep it open until the New Year. That part of him – the foolish part of him, as Severus might call it – was stricken by a sudden sense of elation, and a hope so powerful that Harry began to tremble with it.

It may not be good news, a faint and fearful voice whispered. Good or bad, it was news. It meant that Severus was thinking about him. Despite all appearances that the man had recovered from Harry's visit, Severus still considered him enough to write. It meant he was alive. It meant he cared too much to leave things as they were.

Harry tried not to hope that the letter announced Severus' intention to return, but his mind had already begun making plans. They would keep him at Grimmauld Place for a few days. The old house had sat forgotten for many years and while Severus' stay wouldn't be pleasant, it was a convenient place to stay hidden until they could work out a strategy. Harry would call Kingsley, and together they could make plans. He'd call Hermione in to make the link with the Wizengamot. And then, when they'd set the plan – before the news went public – he'd talk to Ginny. He'd tell her everything. He'd come clean.

"Daddy! Come look!" Lily called from upstairs.

Heart thundering with renewed energy, Harry took the stairs two at a time. He turned into the room to see it had been switched back to blue. A rainbow stretched from one corner, up over the ceiling and down into the opposite corner. Sparrows circled overhead. "Nice work," he grinned at Teddy.

"It's exactly perfect!" Lily announced.

"Exactly perfect," Harry agreed.

"We can do the same in the basement!" Lily said excitedly.

Teddy laughed and shook his head. "Probably not. But you can help me decide," he told her.

Harry swallowed, mind still buzzing with possibilities. "I need to pop out for a bit. Do you mind keeping an eye on her?"

"But Dad," Lily complained, "We were gonna go to the shops."

"I'll be a half hour," Harry promised. "And I'll get some lunch while I'm out. We can have a picnic under your rainbow."

"Fish and chips?" Lily asked.

"If you'd like." Harry raised his eyes in question to Teddy who nodded.

"Come on, bug. Let's get to work."


Sent: Monday, December 18, 2017
To: Jeffers, Susan
Subject: RE: Haven't heard anything

dear susan, i apologise for not having written sooner. it takes me so long to tap out words on this wretched thing that i can scarcely find the time. as i've told mary, work is keeping me very busy. i have six times the number of patients i used to have, with only ten minutes allotted for each one. more often than not, i'm double booked. for all of that, i'm not unhappy. while i miss you all and your meddling ways more than i can account for, i am slowly gathering a group of people who keep me entertained. i'm also cultivating a careful acquaintance with a man called joel who at least meets my more immediate needs. please send my regards to the rest of the circle. happy xmas and all the best for the year to come. love, h.

Severus stared balefully at the block of text, devoid of capitals and grammar. All his patience was spent looking for the letters on the keyboard, and he thought he was doing well to at least make an effort to punctuate. He clicked on the send "button" and then closed down his account before going to the counter to interrupt a spotty young man with a maroon t-shirt sporting the name Dexter's Cyber Café. A badge proudly boasted that he was called Joel, and he'd been working here all of six months.

Severus paid the boy for the use of the computer and walked out into the blazing sun of the Arizona streets. Christmas decorations lined the display windows of the shops he past, looking strangely out of context in the temperate climate. He'd been in Phoenix for two weeks, having spent the past two months apparating along the west coast of America. He had been careful not to spend longer than thirty days in any one state, as it would mean he'd have to register with the authorities.

Arizona was his final destination. He'd rented a dingy room in a rundown motel that smelled rather dusty and stale, but was anonymous enough to suit his purposes. He spent the night listening to his neighbours get pissed and have domestic disputes. He watched poor, dirty, ill-mannered children run rampant up and down the balcony, with only the swimming pool in the courtyard to occupy them.

It was the single most depressing place he'd come across since Spinner's End. It suited his mood well.

The plan was to go into the vast, desert wasteland that surrounded the city. He would find some place so remote that by the time anyone came across a body, the flesh would have melted away to bone; or, best case, it would have been torn to shreds by whatever animal stalked the land. At least, in his death, he might serve some purpose.

That was the plan, and it was fixed firmly in his mind. The email to Susan was the last he would write. He hoped that the mention of a potential new suitor would give them some solace when they didn't hear from him later. He had nothing left to do.

He had nothing left. A few necessities: clothes, soap, sleeping draughts. Apart from books he'd purchased, only to abandon them once they'd been read, he had only two objects which he still didn't know what to do with. The first, a sealed glass bottle in which lay what was left of David. The second, a velvet black box, the contents of which he'd not looked at since the day he'd unwrapped it.

These two objects lay on the bed in front of him now. He couldn't count the hours he'd spent silently contemplating them, quietly justifying himself to the men the objects represented. He imagined he could feel disapproval radiating from them, and when it got too much, he would hide them away in his bag, take a sleeping draught and slip into unconsciousness.

He had one other thing. When all else was gone, this would be the last thing he'd dispose of. In the glaring florescent lighting of the motel, one could just make out the deep violet hue in the dark, inky liquid. Some poetic madman centuries before had coined it Twilight's Kiss. It was a potion that would deliver him gently out of this world. It was the same potion that had killed his parents.

From a slight part in the drawn curtains, Severus could see the sky darken. He stared again at the bottle of David. Once again he went through his options. He could spill the ashes in the desert. It seemed a poor way to repay a man who'd put up with him for so many years. A man who loved him despite his many flaws. Severus imagined he'd have a fair amount of hell to pay if the two were to meet in the afterlife, but given what he was about to do, his punishment would be inevitable. David had had a plan. The plan didn't work as he wanted it to. That, as the saying went, was life.

His eyes turned to the box. This was harder to dispose of. Whereas David could be swept away with the wind, the collars could only be left behind. The problem was that it annoyed Severus to think of anyone touching them. Never mind the danger of a Muggle encountering an enchanted object. Severus cared nothing about the statute of secrecy. These were far too personal to just cast away.

He'd toyed with the idea of sending them back to Harry, but couldn't bear the thought of hurting the man more than he had. Harry likely believed him dead now. It was better for him to continue to believe it and so, Severus abandoned the idea. In San Francisco, Severus had stood on the Golden Gate bridge and considered throwing it to the bottom of the sea. He imagined divers coming across it in centuries to come. The mythologies that would be born of the magical object found.

He couldn't let it go. It was his obstacle. Even without knowing it, Harry was once again standing between Severus and death. Severus sighed and reached out to pull the box closer to him. He lifted the lid slowly and stared down at the two collars. The disc was lying, broken in two, as it had landed when he'd dropped it so many months ago. Severus picked up one of the collars and touched the jigsaw form of the silver disc. As his fingers made contact, the lightning bolt flashed gold, and the serpent began moving until the whole image was contained on the half-disc. He turned the disc over to see the words, "All that I am".

Sentimental fool, Severus thought without malice. He picked up the second collar and placed the two pieces together. The disc flashed again, and the image moved to the centre. He turned the disc over to see the message had changed. "A perfect match," it told him.

Severus made no attempt to stop the tears that sprang to his eyes. There was no one here to see them. He'd spent months holding this at bay and tonight, of all nights, he would let himself grieve. He would let himself remember and acknowledge the man who had taught Severus love. While David had benefited from those teachings, it was Harry all along who made him believe that there was something in him worth loving – that love, with all its risks, was worth pursuing.

A lesson well-learnt, Severus thought with bitter irony. For was it not in defiance of that lesson that he was here tonight? Severus looked down at the joined collars. Harry had bought them in New York at the show, Severus knew. The conversation they'd had after the show, wherein Severus explained to Harry the nature of his relationship with Evan. He'd told him that with Harry, there was a notion of equality. In essence each of them was the slave of the other.

It was funny to think now that Harry had already understood that. Severus was merely confirming something Harry had intuitively felt to be true. He stared at the engraving. The lightning bolt. The scar that defined the man. A curse. Severus thought of the number of times he'd caught the man stroking the thing. A nervous habit. A reflex when things were going wrong. It seemed a strange symbol to want to add to a sentimental trinket.

And yet, it did symbolise him. Every time Severus saw a lightning bolt, he thought of Harry. It was inevitable. It represented all the bad that had happened to the man, but all that he had overcome as well. It was the tragic basis of their history together. How many times had Severus pressed his lips to it? Not nearly enough.

The serpent was a little too obvious, really. Slytherin. Severus supposed if one had to come up with a symbol, it was one that worked well enough. He watched the now animated engraving writhe around the lightning bolt in a figure of eight. Ouroboros twisted into the symbol of infinity. Forever. He supposed that, much like the curse scar, the snake had been his stigma. Slytherin. One couldn't think of Slytherin without following it to the next thought of Voldemort. The snake defined Severus as the lightning bolt defined Harry. A serpent had been the death of him and hence, the beginning of his life with Harry.

Severus swallowed back a sob and covered his eyes, breathing deeply to ease the pain in his chest. He'd never allowed himself to imagine Harry's reaction to his letter. He couldn't bring himself to picture the devastation he'd caused. All of the platitudes he'd used to justify his actions crumbled in the face of this gift, which was less a gift than an object that represented perfectly their entire relationship. An object that Severus had so carelessly dismissed.

Severus took one of the leather collars, letting the other fall back to the box. The underside of the metal disc attached to the discarded collar read, "All that you are." He closed his eyes as he brought the leather band to his neck. As he fastened it, he was struck by a flood of awareness. It was as though he'd been embraced by the other man. He could smell the scent of his soap. He felt the warmth of his body. He could almost feel the man's breath on his neck.

The inundation was so shocking that it took Severus a moment to realise that he really could sense the man. He could sense a brief feeling of groggy confusion, a spike of startled panic, followed by a wave of emotion so strong and contradictory that Severus sat paralysed under it.

Across the world, Harry sat bolt upright in his bed, heart thudding painfully in his chest as a relief, despair, anger and elation choked him. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he whispered, "Severus."

Chapter Text

"You all right?" Hermione whispered to him as the others busily gathered their things to leave the meeting room.

Harry blinked at her owlishly as he tried to will down a rising swell of emotion. He was a wreck, if he were honest, but he could hardly explain that three days ago he'd been woken up in the middle of the night by a man he'd given up as dead. After months of mourning that man quietly, as covertly as he could possibly manage to do, once again the man rose from the dead. For three minutes, Harry felt him. He felt his desperation. He felt his sorrow. His hopelessness. His utter loneliness. It was as though all of what Harry had been feeling for months was amplified and echoed back at him in endless cycles.

And then abruptly, it stopped, leaving behind the ruins that stood before the women today.

Severus had put on the collar, unaware of the spells that had been woven into the leather to allow them to share emotion. To allow them that proximity. To become one. In doing so, he unwittingly revealed himself to be alive, and Harry had spent every second since then praying for the man to put it back on.

"I didn't sleep well," Harry said distractedly.

Hermione waited until everyone left the room, holding Harry's arm to keep him from rushing away. "Harry, you need to move back into the flat," she said. "Just for awhile. I've spoken to Ginny, and she agrees. You're kind of losing it," she said with an apologetic grimace.

"It won't help," Harry whispered, unable to put a voice to the words. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"Harry, what's the matter with you? What happened? You've been walking around in a daze for months. I thought you seemed to be getting better, but… Merlin, Harry, are you crying?"

Harry squeezed his eyes shut as he was pulled into an embrace. His chest felt as though it might implode at any minute. He couldn't do this. He couldn't break down. He couldn't explain. He took a deep breath, which was quickly followed by another and then another…

"Calm down," Hermione soothed. She took out her wand to wave the door shut. "Come on," she cooed, stroking Harry's back while Harry struggled to bring his breathing under control, to will away the panic. He sat in a chair and put his head in his hands.

"Just tell me what's going on," she said. "What's doing this to you?"

Harry shook his head. "I can't explain, Hermione," he told her. "I can't. I'll be all right," he lied, wiping his face. "I have some holiday coming up and the boys will be home tomorrow. I'll be all right."

"Is it stress?" she asked. "Harry, you can tell me anything."

He sniffed and took one last calming breath, pulling himself together. "Not this. Not now," he said, standing. "I'm sorry about freaking out on you," he said with a weak laugh.

Her eyes were wide with concern as she gazed up at him. Her lips thinned into a white line, telling of her frustration.

"Please don't say anything," he said.

"Harry, whatever it is –"

"Don't say anything," he repeated and then gathered his files and fled to his office.

Harry kept his head down as he walked through the halls, ducking out the way of the internal memos flying around overhead, and avoiding the eyes of those who greeted him on his way. He was shamefully aware that his own eyes would betray his breakdown of before.

"Harry – " Dahlia greeted him as he strode past her desk to get to his office.

"Not now, Dahlia," he said gruffly.

"But – " she said. Harry closed the door before she could say anything else and leant against it, frantically trying to pull himself together. He chastised himself with words like Unprofessional. Mental. Child. Idiot. He went over to sink into his desk chair, and covered his face in his hands.

This wasn't working. He couldn't keep doing this to himself. He had to accept that Severus, wherever the fuck he was, was gone. He had accepted it, mostly. He'd been absolutely destroyed by the letter, unwilling to believe that the man had chosen death over him. For weeks after, he'd sit alone in meditation until he thought he could feel the man. He'd known he was alive.

He'd convinced himself he was wrong. That he was imagining it. Just as he'd likely imagined the whole connection between them. Severus had been right. It was a simple emotional connection. And then Harry grieved.

He knew he wasn't doing a great job of hiding it, but he was doing the best he could under the circumstances. He'd moved into the house where at night, alone, he could do the thing properly. The face he'd shown the world was not a happy one, but he felt sure that he was worse than he seemed to be. That was the best he could hope for.

He'd just begun to recover. He'd just begun to throw himself back into work, to pull his concentration back to matters that were more important than his emotional torment. He was preparing the house for Christmas. He was preparing the kids' rooms for their homecoming. He was moving on.

And then, he'd woken up to Severus, wrapped around him like he always was when they slept together. For one semi-conscious moment, Harry felt at peace, and then abruptly realized that Severus wasn't there. At first, he thought it was the man's ghost. Ridiculous, given how cold ghosts are compared to how warm he felt. Suddenly, it occurred to him.

He'd charmed the collars with the intent of being able to at least feel one another when they were apart. He regretted now not having taken the second collar with him, but he'd wanted to present them as a whole before splitting them up. He'd have explained to Severus their purpose, their meaning. But the man didn't want to be reminded of Harry.

A timid knock at his door tore his attention away from his self-torture. Dahlia pushed open the door and poked her head through.

"I'm sorry, Harry. But there's a gentleman waiting to see you. He said it was a matter of some urgency," she said apologetically. "He's been waiting an hour."

Harry sighed. "Who is it?"

"Hadrian Prince?"

The name slammed into him like a battering ram and Harry fell back against his chair. He stared at the grey-haired woman blankly.

"I'll tell him to come back later," she said worriedly.

"No!" Harry barked. He tried to get the words, "Send him in" out of his mouth, but his tongue was paralysed. He stood up.

Dahlia looked at him with an uncertain expression before pushing the door open and turning to the waiting area. "Mr Potter will see you now."

And there he was, looking tired and distinctly wary, but alive. Harry blinked back a flood of tears and was torn between wanting to throw himself at the man and to kill him. The door clicked shut behind him, and the tears spilled down Harry's face. "I thought you were dead."

Severus nodded and lowered his eyes. "We've had this conversation before," he said quietly.

An incredulous laugh bubbled up from the depths of some source of joy buried beneath the anger and the rage. "It's not funny," he whispered. "It's not funny, you bastard," he growled, his legs carrying him thoughtlessly forward until his arms were tightly around the man.

"I couldn't do it," Severus rasped into his hair. He took a deep breath. "I tried."

Harry sobbed, uncontrollably and shamelessly against the man's neck. The precariously constructed dam holding back the emotion he'd been harbouring since he'd left the man in March was destroyed, and Harry was helpless against it. "As soon as I'm done being happy you're alive, I'm going fucking kill you," he warned the man.

Severus snorted and tightened his arms around Harry. "Whenever you're ready," he whispered. "I'll be here."

They had a lot to talk about. Harry, in particular, had a lot to say – although most of what he had to say would involve a string of epithets and insults. He was angry at the man for having put him through three months of utter hell. He was confused as to what brought the man back, in light of the man's misgivings concerning his place in Harry's life. The children would be back from Hogwarts tomorrow and staying with Harry for the first part of the holidays. Christmas, this year, would be held at the house as a sort of housewarming party. Harry had no idea what he would do with Severus during this time.

They had a lot to talk about.

It was going to have to wait.

For more than Harry wanted to scream at the man, more than he wanted to sort out the details of how they would go forward, Harry wanted to ensure they would be going forward. Severus was in Britain, in his office, and Harry was inspired now to do something irreparable before the man could change his mind.

Harry pulled back after a long moment and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his robes. He stared up at the man, his heart swelling as reality solidified around him. Severus was there. He'd come back. For Harry. Harry cleared his throat and walked over to his desk to take up his quill. He penned two notes. The first was to Kingsley:


Our friend has come home from America. I'm calling an emergency meeting in my office in a half hour to discuss his re-integration. Please confirm your availability.


"What are you doing?" Severus asked warily as Harry folded the note and then took up a second sheet of parchment.

"Executing a plan that I've had for years," Harry said with a meaningful smile.

"Shouldn't we talk first?"

Harry shook his head. "We'll have years to talk," Harry said. "Have a seat. It's going to be a long day." He turned to pen a second note, calling the meeting, and duplicated it several times. He went to the door, setting the note to Kingsley flying out the office and giving the others to his secretary to prepare for him. He asked her to prepare enough tea for everyone and turned back to his office to arrange the room for the meeting.

"I'd originally planned to take you to Grimmauld Place," Harry explained once everything was prepared. "To give you a few days respite before the announcement was widely known. But it's coming up to Christmas and we don't have a lot of time. I don't trust you not to change your mind," he added with an apologetic smile.

Severus sat stiffly in a chair by Harry's table. His blank expression revealed more than it could hide. Harry could see the unease glittering in those dark eyes. He could read the panic in the tense way Severus held himself – like a hunted animal poised to take flight. Harry walked over to him now and put his hands on either shoulder. "I've waited for this moment for years, Severus," he said softly and bent to press his lips to the man's head. "I'm not letting you get away again."

Severus brought one of Harry's hands to his lips. He dropped it as the door opened again. Harry moved away and smiled at Dahlia, who placed the tea service on the centre of a small conference table. "Minister Shacklebolt is on his way down, Harry," she informed him.

"Thank you."

His eyes met Severus', his stomach swirled with the nervousness he knew was lingering behind that fathomless gaze. He gave him an encouraging smile. Severus' lips curled up on one side.

A few moments later, Kingsley was standing in his office staring at the man with a cautious look. "You're back," he said in a deep voice.

Severus nodded. "Just in time for Christmas," he said wryly.

Kingsley strode forward, hand stretched out before him to take Severus'. He clapped the man on the shoulder. "This is going to be one hell of a mess," he said with an amused smile. "And here I'd hoped my last days in office would be quiet," he laughed.

"It would be a shame to end such a long, successful career anticlimactically," Severus joked.

Kingsley snorted and shook his head. "What brings you back?"

Severus' eyes turned toward Harry. "It suddenly occurred to me that this was where I belonged," he said.

Kingsley grunted and shook his head. "It took you twenty years to realise that?" he said. "You used to be quicker than that, Severus."

"I'm getting old."

"We're all getting old. I hope you're ready for this."

Severus shook his head. "But I don't imagine I ever will be."

"You could have warned us, Harry," Kingsley said with mild reproach.

Harry laughed desperately. "This time, I'm as surprised as you are," he said honestly.

A knock on the door announced the arrival of the first of those whose weekend before Christmas had just become more complicated. The first to arrive was Gordan Kelly, the chief Auror and head of the security team, followed closely by Irwin Sellers, press secretary, who told Harry that Hermione was detained at the Wizengamot and would arrive late. All members took their seats around the table, pouring tea and ignoring the presence of the unidentified man sat next to Kingsley.

Kingsley looked at Severus with a puzzled expression. "I expected more by way of a reaction," he said.

The two other members of the meeting looked at Kingsley expectantly.

"Old habits," Severus muttered and then cancelled the cloaking spell.

Amid the sudden outcries of shock, Kingsley shook his head. "You'll have to teach me that spell," he said.

"P-professor?" Irwin said in an awed tone of disbelief.

"Bloody hell," Gordan whispered.

"Quite," Kingsley said, clearly satisfied by the belated reaction. "First, I suppose, some sort of explanation is in order."

"Sorry I'm late," Hermione said, bursting through the door looking vaguely harassed. "Minister, Gordan," she nodded. "Irwin." She sat down and readied her quill to take notes before looking up to find everyone staring at her. "What?"

Her eyes darted around and then landed on Severus. She blinked several times in disbelief before her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open mutely. "But …" she squeaked. "But … Oh my god," she breathed.

Harry laughed nervously. The others joined him, letting her be the voice of their own stunned disbelief.

"But I saw you … we saw you …" she stuttered in shock.

"As I was about to explain," Kingsley said, "Severus survived the war. He'd arranged prior to his presumed death to leave Britain. He's been living in America under an identity the Ministry helped to devise for him. With our blessing and under our protection," Kingsley insisted. "Mr Snape has made the decision to come back, and we're here to ensure that his return goes as smoothly and as safely as possible."

Hermione's eyes searched Harry's face to try and find the shock that she herself was feeling. Harry offered a small, guilty smile. "How? What?" she said.

"This might very well be the first time I've seen you speechless, Mrs Granger-Weasley," Severus said wryly.

"Oh, my god. Professor Snape," she cried, her eyes welling with tears. "Fucking hell."

The other members of the meeting laughed at this most uncharacteristic slip up. Hermione was normally correct to a fault, and to hear her curse spoke volumes regarding the enormity of the situation. But the others hadn't seen what she and Harry had seen. They alone witnessed the attack. They watched this man fade. "Would you like to take a moment, Hermione?" Harry asked sympathetically. He stood to pour her a cup of tea and slid it between her hands as she sat staring at a dead man.

"Thank you," she said, struggling to pull herself together. "Sorry," she added to the others.

Kingsley cleared his throat. "Without further ado, I'll hand this over to Harry, who, I imagine, has been planning for this eventuality for years."

Hermione's eyes turned on Harry and narrowed.

Harry gave her an apologetic smile and then turned to the greater group. "I know you all have questions," he said. "Those questions will be answered in due time. What is important today is that Severus has come back to Britain. We will need to draft a statement, to be released to the press tomorrow. We'll hold a press conference on Saturday. We will need to ensure that he is properly protected. And Hermione, we have to ensure that the Wizengamot is formally notified this afternoon. I imagine they will have concerns, and we want to make sure their concerns are properly addressed."

Hermione visibly struggled to summon up her professional side. She cleared her throat. "Of course," she said, already beginning to scribble thoughts on the parchment in front of her.

Within an hour, the plans Harry had been drafting were beginning to take form. Severus stayed mostly silent throughout the meeting, listening as his near future was carefully plotted. He only spoke up once during the meeting to insist that he be present for the press conference, despite Harry's misgivings. This turned into a conversation of what additional security would be required for the press conference.

When Gordan asked if Harry had given any thought as to where Severus might be staying in the near future, Harry hesitated. He looked over Severus cautiously. "He and I will need to discuss that," he said finally. "He will stay with me tonight. The house is already secured, and I can think of no safer place. I will speak to Ginny about letting him stay in Diagon Alley over Christmas. I'll let you know what we decide after that," Harry offered.

When the meeting came to a close, everyone stood. Irwin was the first to offer his hand to Severus. "I'm really happy to see you, sir," he said. "Surprised, but happy."

It occurred to Harry that Severus would have been the head of Slytherin when Irwin was in school. He watched Severus nod and smile. "Thank you, Mr Sellers."

Gordan shook his hand next. "I never thought I'd have this honour, Mr Snape," he said kindly.

"Harry has spoken highly of you," Severus said in return. "I should apologise for making your holidays more complicated than you anticipated."

"How long have you known?" Hermione hissed angrily in Harry's ear.

Harry wrinkled his nose. "I'm sorry, Hermione. It wasn't my secret to tell," he said. "I promise to tell you everything. Really. Just ... Give me a few days first," he said. There was one other person who needed to be told first. It was a conversation Harry had planned out several times over the years. And as long as Ginny kept to her side of the script, there should be no problems.

Hermione glared at him as though she might argue, but deflated instead with a sigh. "Fine," she said. "Are you all right?"

Harry smiled at her. "I am now," he said. "I'll explain everything," he promised at the quizzical look in her eyes. "Later."

Hermione gave a frustrated nod and then rounded the table to stand before Severus, who was finishing his conversation with Gordan. Severus turned a stiff expression on her, eyes darting momentarily to Harry.

"Professor," Hermione said.

"I've not been "Professor" for a number of years," he said in a low voice. "Miss Granger," he added ironically.

"I don't know how you did it," Hermione said, her voice quivering slightly. "We saw you get attacked. We were there when you..."

Severus put a hand on the woman's shoulder. "I owe you an explanation," he said. "I owe a lot of people an explanation," he added.

Harry walked up to put an arm around Hermione's waist. "He'll give it, Hermione. We'll tell the story," he promised. "But perhaps we'll let him rest first," he said with a smile in Severus' direction. "I have a feeling he'll need his strength."

Hermione sniffed and wiped her fingers under her eyes. "All right," she nodded. "I'm very glad to see you alive, Pr ... Mr Snape."

"Severus, please," Severus insisted. "I will need to get accustomed to hearing that name again," he said.

Hermione gave him an uncertain smile. Her last memories of this man were surely clashing spectacularly with the man who stood before her now. She nodded. "I will see you soon," she said and then, with another irritable glance at Harry, left.

"That went well," Harry said, when the room had cleared out.

Severus nodded. "I assume by the end of this, the amusement at seeing people shocked out of their senses will have worn off."

Harry laughed. "Hermione's reaction would have been funny if I didn't know exactly what she was feeling," he said. "I'm not the only one who regretted doing nothing to save you that night."

Severus nodded. "Bloody Gryffindors," he said.

They stood staring at each other until their smiles faded. "It's time to talk now," Harry said.

Severus nodded. "Now that there's no escape," he noted.

Harry laughed and looked down. "Exactly. But there are choices and we need to discuss those," he added. "Come home with me?"

Severus nodded with a sigh.

Harry called Dahlia into his office before leaving and introduced the stunned woman to a war hero she'd once thought dead. They discussed how to handle the solicitations for information prior to the press conference. After asking the woman to clear his schedule for the rest of the afternoon, Harry and Severus (once again under the protection of his coveted spell), made their way out of the Ministry and home.

"Harry, is that you?" Teddy's voice came from the basement.

Harry swore an oath under his breath and looked apologetically at Severus, who was staring at him with something akin to shock and, Harry thought, anger. "Sorry," he muttered. "I forgot he was working the late shift this week," he said.

"He?" Severus inquired stiffly.

It occurred to Harry suddenly what Severus was thinking. He rolled his eyes. "My godson, you prat."

As he spoke the words, Teddy's footsteps sounded on the stairs. He appeared in a doorway. "Oh," he said, in surprise, coming through the door and walking to present himself to the man.

"Hi, I'm Ted," he said.

Severus studied the man as though sorting out which features belonged to which parent. "Pleased to meet you," he said quietly.

"Teddy, this is ... going to be difficult to explain," Harry said with a laugh. "This is Severus Snape."

Teddy's eyes widened. "But," he said.

"I'm quite alive," Severus assured him.

"I'd forgotten you were here this afternoon," Harry said. "Severus will be staying here for ... er, now. The news of his return will only go out tomorrow, Teddy, so I need to ask you not to say anything to anyone before then."

The young man stared at Severus as he nodded.

"Teddy lives here with me. He's studying to be a mediwizard," Harry explained quickly. His mind cast back to Severus' last letter detailing the reasons he had chosen not to do all this. Harry's family. His life. All that surrounded him when he wasn't sequestered away on hedonistic holidays with Severus. He recalled being angry at the man's explanation. He recalled railing against the faulty reasoning. But just now, he realised that Severus may have had a point.

"It's really good to meet you, sir. You're a bit of a legend," he said. "Blimey," he laughed, "thousands of history books are going to have to be re-written," the boy said delightedly, surprising a laugh out of Severus.

Harry shook his head and rubbed his scar. "That's the least of our worries," he said grimly.

Teddy's eyes turned to Harry with a concern that had been ever present in the past few months. "Anything I can do to help?" he asked.

Harry shook his head before a thought occurred to him. "There is, actually," he said. "Tomorrow is going to be mad. There will be press all over the place. Do you think you could go to King's Cross with me and get the boys off the platform? I'll wait in the car," he said.

Teddy brightened up. "No worries. I was going anyway to see Victoire," he said.

"Perfect," Harry said, exhaling a relieved breath. It was one less thing to worry about. His eyes met Severus'. "Severus and I have some details to sort out, now," he said. "We'll be in my office."

"I'll be downstairs if you need anything," Teddy said helpfully. He turned to Severus, his eyes shining with admiration. "It's amazing to meet you, Mr Snape."

"Call me Severus," the other man insisted. "I suspect we'll be seeing each other rather often."

The boy grinned, and Harry couldn't help but smile as well. Severus was clearly making an effort to make himself approachable to those surrounding Harry. First Hermione and now Teddy. It gave Harry some level of hope that perhaps he wouldn't have to completely split himself in two in the name of love.

After fixing tea, Severus was installed in Harry's office amid the stacked boxes Harry hadn't yet got around to unpacking. Harry cleared a space to sit on his desk. It was as though time ground to a halt suddenly. There was no more planning to be done, nothing left to sort out. They sat steeping in unnamed emotion for a long moment.

"I'm furious with you," Harry said finally.

Severus nodded. "I know. I admit I'm mildly surprised I've not been cursed yet," he said with a half-smile.

"You put on the collar," Harry said.

"I had no idea what it would do," Severus admitted. "I hadn't been able to bring myself to look at the thing for months. I carried it with me, trying to come up with an idea of what to do with it."

"Where were you?" Harry asked.

Severus hesitated a moment before launching into his story, telling of his strategic plan for a painless exit from the world. Harry stared impassively as the man told the story of his deceit, of how he had carried it out and then maintained it over the past few months. As he told about the plan for his final departure, Harry felt a hard lump grow in his throat, imagining the man propped up against a rock in the desert somewhere, choking down poison. He shivered reflexively.

"And then I put the collar on and felt you. All your anger and your pain. The loss. I felt everything I was doing to you and I couldn't go through with it. I tried, Harry. I spent the night in the desert, trying to convince myself that it was what was best for both of us. I watched the sun rise that morning, and I knew that my chance had passed. You'd saved me again."

It was a long time before Harry could speak. "I couldn't believe you were gone," he said quietly. "I felt like I would know, you know? Like I would feel it if you weren't there. I've spent months trying to let go of you, Severus. You have no idea what that was like. What you felt in that connection does not even begin to cover it," he said fiercely. "And just when I had finally managed to redirect my thoughts and pull myself together, you put on that damned collar and destroyed me all over again." Harry squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry," Severus said, voice laden with the sincerity of the words. "I can't undo it, Harry. But I'm willing to spend the rest of my life making amends if you'll allow it."

Harry snorted weakly. "It had better be a fucking long life, Severus. I forbid you to die before me. I've already mourned you twice, and I'm not about to do it again."

Severus stood to wrap his arms around Harry, pulling him close. Harry clung to the man. "Given the age difference, I'm not sure how much control I'll have over that," Severus said wryly.

"Then you'll just have to make a concerted effort," Harry said.

"I'll do my best," Severus vowed, and sealed the promise with a soft kiss. Harry pressed into the contact, allowing his discordant emotions to settle. Severus was here. He wasn't going anywhere.

"You couldn't have chosen a worse time," he said as an afterthought. "If you'd come last week, we'd have had time to plan," he told the man. "Tomorrow, the boys come home. It's their first time at the house, and we need to prepare everything for Christmas, which will be here," Harry told the man. "It's like you timed your arrival specifically to make your point."

Severus laughed at the accusation and then sank back down into the chair. He scrubbed his face with his hands. "So it's to be a baptism of fire," he said wryly.

Harry gave him a desperate look before sliding off the desk and sitting on the man's knees. "It doesn't have to be. The kids will all be here tomorrow and through to Christmas. Sunday afternoon, we'll go to the Burrow for Christmas Eve. Monday, everyone is coming here. It was supposed to be a sort of house-warming party," Harry explained with a grimace. "I can talk to Ginny. She may let you stay at the flat through the weekend."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "You are going to ask your wife to house your lover?" he said with a disbelieving smile.

Harry laughed. "Well, stranger things have happened," he said. "I need to talk to her tonight. Before the story comes out," Harry said. "I can broach the subject then," he said. "And then we can discuss how you want to do things afterward. You're welcome to stay here, but I'll understand if you want your own space."

"It seems to me that even full of children, you have more than enough space," Severus pointed out.

Harry laughed. "I know. But well, the option's out there. I don't want to overwhelm you, Severus. This is going to be difficult enough for you as it is."

Severus nodded. "But as you said, my timing has made it even more so." Severus brought his mug to his lips and drank. His eyes slid shut. "I'm surely going to regret this, but I think it might be better to get the introductions over with as quickly as possible. As everyone will be here at Christmas, it's an opportune time to tell the story once and to as many people as possible. It will save us both from having to recount it."

Harry gave the man an uncertain look. "You're sure you want to face the entire Weasley clan at once? Plus Hagrid, Neville and Luna."

"Neville? As in Longbottom?" Severus' eyes widened.

"Professor Longbottom," Harry corrected.

"I'm going to need to drink," Severus said ominously.

Harry laughed. "I'll keep you supplied," he promised. "Shall I invite Minerva?"

Severus grunted. "She may kill me and save me the trouble of telling the story," he said.

Harry reached up to stroke the man's head. "She might. But only after crying her eyes out," Harry said. "So that's Christmas sorted. What about tomorrow? Think you can handle meeting the kids? Ginny will be over for dinner as well to help with the transition."

Severus went silent for a moment before groaning. "I reserve the right to run and hide at any moment," he said. "How do you expect your ex will receive me?" He asked warily.

Harry snorted. "Dunno," he said honestly. "But it will go a lot better for both of us if I'm honest with her at the beginning. She knows I cheated on her, and she'll understand why I didn't tell her who you were. She may feel a little annoyed that the encounters were not quite as anonymous as she believed ... I don't know. How about we decide how to deal with tomorrow once I've seen how she'll react?" he proposed.

"Very well," Severus agreed. "If you don't mind, I'd quite like to get cleaned up and sleep while I still can," he said.

Harry smiled. "Would you like some company?"

"That, Mr Potter, is the best offer I've had in months."


"Gin," Harry called out when he entered the flat.

"Harry!" she said, popping her head out of the kitchen with a relieved look. "Hermione talked to you," she said.

Harry frowned a moment before recalling that Ginny and Hermione had spoken about Harry coming back to stay at the flat for awhile. "No. I mean, yeah, we talked. But that's not why I'm here," he said.

"Is everything all right?" she asked.

"I think you should sit down," he said.

She gave him a searching look for a moment before saying, "Do I need booze?" she said with a wary smile.

Harry snorted. "You might do," he conceded. He took the liberty of summoning two glasses of whisky and then sat in the chair. "Lily got off to bed all right?" he said.

"She's fine. Enough with the small talk, you're making me nervous," she said. "Has something happened? You look a little pale."

"I'm good. Really. Brilliant, actually," he assured her. He couldn't recall the last time he was happier. But he was wary as to how this conversation would go. He wasn't sure how he would explain, or how much detail he'd go into. He was even less sure how she was going to take his news.

Ginny snorted. "Harry, you're talking to me here. You're neither good nor brilliant. If I'm to judge, I'd say..." She tilted her head. "Nauseated."

"Heh," Harry grunted. "A little," he admitted. "I have something I need to tell you, and I have no idea how to begin. Something's come up. It'll be all over the papers tomorrow morning. I wanted you to hear it from me first."

The corner of her mouth curled up. "Harry, you've met someone?"

Harry's gave an uncertain smile. "Not exactly," he said. He took a deep breath. With the number of times he'd imagined having this conversation with Ginny, one would think he'd be better prepared. Faced with the prospect of sharing such a tightly held secret, he now didn't know where to begin. The years of intricate deception weighed on him heavily.

"Blimey. It must be bad," Ginny said with a wary tone. "Deep breath and out with it, mate," she said with an encouraging smile. Her smile faded suddenly. "You've not gone straight again, have you?" she said in a tone that suggested if he had, it would be wise to lie.

"What?" Harry laughed incredulously. "God, no. But..." He took a deep breath. "There's something I've been keeping from you," he started.

Her eyes went immediately sympathetic. "Are you finally going to tell me why you've been walking around like you're in mourning?"

"It's ... related," Harry said. "Do you remember our last year at Hogwarts? I went on a trip over the Christmas holidays."

"Merlin, Harry. That was twenty years ago!" She met his wrinkled nose with a puzzle look. "All right, I'll play. Yeah. It was the first time you went to Switzerland," she recalled.
"What you don't know is that I'd received a letter earlier in the year, from Dumbledore's solicitor. He'd left me a chalet in Grindelwald."

She snorted incredulously at the name, and then narrowed her eyes. "Wait, you have a chalet in Switzerland? How did I not know that?"

"Because it's under the Fidelius charm. No one knows about it. The reason he left it to me was so that I could hold it for someone who was staying there. Someone he wanted me to maintain contact with. Someone who was supposed to be dead," Harry said. "Snape."

Her frown turned to wide-eyed realisation. "Snape? He's alive?" she breathed in an awed whisper.

Harry barrelled on with the story before she could start connecting the dots. "He's alive," he confirmed. "He's been living in America under the name of Hadrian Prince."

"Bloody hell." She shook her head. "But how? Does anyone else know?"

Harry nodded. "Kingsley knew. We met today with Gordan, Irwin and Hermione. Tomorrow, everyone will know. But I wanted to talk to you first."

"Why?" she said. "I mean, I'm glad you told me but I don't see how-" She stopped talking. Her mouth dropped open with a little "Oh." Her face froze like that for an eternal moment. "Snape? Fucking hell!" The look on her face as she struggled to imagine it was priceless. Harry couldn't contain the grin that stretched across his face. "It was," she said, and then, "Merlin's balls!" and finally, "I never knew you had such wretched taste."

"Oi!" Harry protested.

"But I thought he was straight," she said. "Didn't he have a thing for your mum?"

"Apparently I misjudged the nature of their relationship," Harry said. "I thought he was straight, too. But the first time I saw him, when I found him at the chalet – which he wasn't too thrilled about, by the way – he'd given me a memory for Christmas."

"Another memory?"

Harry nodded. "He said he wanted me to have a memory that showed my dad in a better light."

"Blimey," Ginny said, clearly surprised.

"Yeah. Only because he didn't have a Penseive, tacked onto this great memory of my mum and dad dancing at the Yule ball, was this part where Evan Rosier was stroking him through his robes."

"The Death Eater?"

Harry nodded. "It haunted me for years," he said with a grin. "And then a few years later we met up again. And that's when..."

"He turned you gay," Ginny provided.

Harry laughed. "Yeah. Although he adamantly refuses to take responsibility. To be fair, I kind of seduced him."

"I can't get my head around it," she said. "I mean, when you described the bloke to me, it was the image that came to my mind, but I would never have thought ... you two hated each other."

Harry nodded. "Yeah. He's changed a bit. Not much. He's still a bastard, but he's a bit softer. More funny than cruel. Most of the time," Harry amended. "You met him once," Harry said. "Do you remember the writer we met? David and his partner Jack."

"That was him?"

Harry nodded. "That was the day you unwittingly exposed him and nearly cost him his relationship," he said wryly. "David had no idea who he was before then. He only knew him as Hadrian."

Her eyes went distant as she tried to recall. "God, no wonder you were weird," she said. After a moment she frowned, her eyes flashed angrily. "Wait, you'd been carrying on an affair with Snape the whole time we were married?"

Harry shook his head quickly. "I told you about the two times he and I were together," he insisted. "I couldn't tell you who it was, Gin. I hated not being able to tell you. He got together with David after the last time he and I ... met up. He and David were together until David-"

"Died," Ginny said, recalling Harry's research for "Jack."

Harry nodded. "I wasn't with him again until I went on holiday last March," he said truthfully. "I went over once to see him, when David was dying, because he was sort of losing the plot," Harry said. "I told you I was going to a conference in Paris. He disappeared for a bit after David died, and I found him again in Switzerland last year. Remember? I came home early. He and I had a row," he said.

"What was the row?" she asked.

Harry didn't know how much detail he wanted to go into, but he felt he owed her the truth. He'd been keeping all the pain to himself for so long, he was eager to get it out now. He explained to her his trip over when David was sick. How it had become clear that Severus didn't intend to survive his lover. He told her of Severus' disappearance and Harry's discovery of the man pissed out of his mind at the chalet. Harry told her how Severus tried to convince him to take David's ashes to Hogwarts and then his subsequent campaign to mend things with Harry.

As he spoke, she stared in wonder as many mysteries were solved for her. Harry's frequent bouts of depression, his trips abroad. He could see her filling in the pieces of the great puzzle that was their married life. He explained that he'd gone over in March to see him. How it was clear that Severus wasn't precisely committed to life and their subsequent truce. He explained the row they'd had as he was leaving and the letter he'd received in September, bringing him to the present.

She looked at him a long moment before saying, "You're in love with him."

Harry dropped his eyes. "Ginny, I have loved you since I was sixteen. I will always love you. But he and I belong together. I know it's insensitive for me to say that. Especially to you. And I know it's weird for you because you've only ever known him as Professor Snape."

She shook her head. "Does he love you?"

Harry beamed as he said, "Yeah."

She blinked. "Merlin, this is..."

"I know," Harry said sympathetically. "Weird."

"Weird," she echoed. She sat staring in a daze for a moment before she suddenly burst with laughter, startling Harry.


She gasped for air. "Oh..." she said and then giggled some more. "Oh, Merlin. I have to be there when you tell Ron. Promise me," she said.

Harry dropped his face in his hands and laughed. "God, he's going to die," he said quietly.

"Oh, I can't wait to see the look on his face," she said, eyes glittering with tears of mirth.

"You're terrible," Harry said, shaking his head. "You should have seen Hermione when she saw him today. I thought she was going to sick up for a moment. Or burst into tears. I think she's cross with me for not having told her he was alive."

Ginny grunted. "She was as traumatised by his death as you were," she said. She shook her head. "Blimey, Harry. This is huge." She sat thinking about it a moment before a look of horror crossed her face. She groaned and dropped her head into her hands.


"I named my kid after the other woman," she complained to her palms.

Harry successfully didn't laugh for about ten seconds. It proved to be stronger than he and burst forth explosively. "I did try to talk you out of it," he said defensively when confronted by her murderous gaze.

"But you didn't tell me why!" she shouted. "Oh, fuck," she moaned, covering her eyes. "I hate you." She lifted her hand to glare at him, but the corners of her mouth twitched. "He must have had a right good laugh at my expense," she said miserably.

"He enjoyed torturing me over it," Harry admitted. "But it's a good name," he said. "And the sentiment behind it is no less valid. He's still a great man," Harry offered in consolation.

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "How great?" she said, mouth twitching into a smirk.

Harry grinned back. "Fucking amazing," he said honestly.

"Really?" she said uncomprehendingly. "Snape?"

"Amazing," he repeated.

She gave him a look and then sat up straight. "All right. Show us then," she said.

Harry shook his head. "No way," he said firmly. "He'll kill me."

"Prior obligations, Harry. You made me a promise once. Under the circumstances, I'll forgive you for not having made good on it, but I want to see the man who ruined my marriage." Her lips twisted into a wicked smirk.

"No," Harry said firmly. "Absolutely not," he followed for good measure. "Gin, he's already said he'd torture me if I even considered it," he said gravely.

Ginny gave him a level look before nodding. "I can live with that," she said solemnly.

Harry gave her an exasperated look. "Gin-"

"You've been lying to me for twenty years, Harry. This is the least you can do," she said.

Harry looked at her. Her wicked smile infecting his lips. "He'll kill me," he said darkly. "You remember Snape, right. Vicious, mean ... He's not changed much."

"Then we won't tell him," she said. "Please?"

Harry shook his head slowly. "You're a bloody pervert," he said. Her pleased grin lit up her face making Harry laugh. "You can never tell him," he said. "And no leering at him when you see him. He knows what you're like," Harry said.

Ginny laughed. "Well, if he knows all my secrets, then I deserve to know his. Come on. The Penseive's in the kitchen."

Harry had to admit to feeling a tickle of excitement to finally be able to show her. To finally make good on the broken promises he'd made ages ago. The look in her eyes as he brought his wand to his temple made him feel like a kid again, about to embark on some new exciting adventure. He grinned back and dropped the silver strand in the Penseive.

"This is the first time," he told her. "The night before, he and I went out for New Year's Eve. I took Polyjuice, and he wore a sort of cloaking spell to keep from being recognised. We got a bit drunk and a bit carried away, and agreed that we would only have one night, with no penetration. This is the morning after, and I've changed my mind."

She grinned at him and practically bounced in anticipation. Harry rolled his eyes. "Come on, then." He took her hand, and they plunged into the chalet. Harry looked and blinked at the sight of the two chairs in front of the fire. He remembered that they would fix that later in the evening.

Harry was bent over the massage table as Severus assessed his progress.

"Bloody hell, he's changed over the years," Ginny whispered. "And you. Merlin, you look young."

"I was young," Harry snorted. But it was true. He'd always been small for his age and the glasses had done nothing to help his boyish look.

"What's he doing?" she asked, watching as Severus' fingers crawled up his back, poking and prodding. Harry could see that his own younger face looked remarkably flushed.

"Teasing me mercilessly," Harry said with a wistful smile. "I'd had an accident skiing. I told you that, remember? Severus healed me."

"Any pain?"

"In my back?"

"In your back ... Anywhere else?"

"More of an ache."

"Look at you being all seductive," Ginny teased.

Harry laughed. "But it works ... watch."

"And if I said it wasn't your hands I was interested in?"

"There are other non-invasive options to relieve aches."

"Not this ache, Severus.

Harry glanced over to see his ex-wife and current and forever best friend watching the scene with an amused grin. He couldn't help but smile along. They'd always shared their kinks. There was little he wouldn't tell her, little he couldn't show her. And to be able to share this now healed a sort of rift that had been between them over the past twenty years. It was freeing to have her see where it began. To have her finally understand.

Severus would kill him for this. If he ever managed to tell him.

"I've redrawn the line."

Ginny's mouth hung open in shock as his younger self kissed his way through Severus' resolve. "I can't believe that's you. I can't believe you're snogging Snape. You, Harry. Snogging. Snape." She tore her eyes from the scene to look at him. Her mouth trembled a moment before she burst out laughing, cutting through the sexual tension of the scene playing out before