Nocturne
by
Tira Nog

A/N: My eternal thanks to my dear friends and intrepid betas Meri_Oddities and Serpentsgarden. Special thanks to Serpentsgarden for doing a fantastic line edit when the killer spores were after her! You're my hero! The characters are J.K. Rowling's and the boo-boos are all mine. No money made.

Written for Elanor Isolda for the Detention Snape/Harry. She requested:
Two required kinks: Parseltongue and Canon!Snape (the uglier and greasier the better).

Optional requests: Vampire!Snape, some reference to Snape's voice.

*****


Knockturn Alley was dodgy enough in the daylight, but by night, it was positively surreal. This was the part of the Wizarding World that no one wanted to look at or think about. It drew the dregs of society, as well as those the magical world had discarded. Stray orphans ended up here, the squibs who couldn't make it in the Muggle world, prostitutes, contraband dealers, thieves, murderers, rapists . . . the list was endless. Some were predators, but most were prey.

These were the streets Auror Harry Potter walked, the part of the Wizarding World he attempted to make a little safer for all.

Only several hundred yards away from their shining Diagon Alley neighbours, the shops here all had a seedy look to them. The windows were grimy and hard to see through. They were never cleaned, for this was not a place that anyone wanted to be seen.

Rubbish, human waste, dirt, and soot littered the alleys between the shops. One could hardly envision a less appealing place.

The corpse staring unblinkingly up at the snowy night sky didn't improve the ambiance any. Steam rose from the gruesome, glistening gash where the woman's throat used to be. The kill was so recent that a sunken bloodstain marked the fresh snow that had settled around her blonde, curly head.

His wand clutched tight in his fist, Harry Potter blinked the falling snow out of his eyes as he stared down at the wretched remains of the squib prostitute. He'd seen her working the streets. He thought her name was Ella or Ellie.

The bugger still had to be close. She was still warm. When vampires glutted themselves like this, they couldn't work magic for a while. There was a chance he'd get this bastard tonight.

Harry knew that he should call in and let headquarters know what he'd found and what he was up to, but any delay could mean the difference between apprehending this monster and having to deal with another corpse tomorrow night – just like they had every night for the last twelve days. They'd had a corpse a night for nearly two weeks straight, yet lost souls like the broken doll at his feet continued to work the streets.

He bent down closer to the gore-drenched body. Her right hand was clenched in a fist, as though she were clutching something. Transferring his own wand to his mouth for a moment, he pried her fingers apart, trying not to lose his dinner as the blood from her hands stained his own. Her fist didn't open easily, but when he managed it, he saw several black hairs in her palm.

Pay dirt. He quickly removed his wand from between his teeth and performed a tracing spell on the hairs. The last three times he'd tried this, the killer had been gone too long for his spell to work. A certain proximity was necessary for tracing spells to home in on their targets. Once the target was fixed, the caster could follow his prey from one end of the planet to the other, but only if the person he were searching for was still within close range when he initiated his spell. Tonight he got lucky.

His wand twitched northwards, away from Diagon Alley, down towards the equally squalid Newts Eye Mew.

Harry drew himself up to his full height, and quickly hurried towards the shadowed mew. The corroded iron gate at its entrance was unlocked and hanging open. He considered using his wand to illuminate the area, but decided that would highlight his own position far better than it would his prey's.

So he slid inside the gates and pressed his back to the nearest wall. As a precaution, he slipped out the twelve-inch wooden stake he'd been carrying in a special pocket of his robes for the last two weeks. Wand in his right, stake in his left, he studied the area between the dirty brick buildings.

The new fallen snow was rife with footprints, of many sizes, travelling in many directions.

There were rubbish bins on both sides of the mew. The buildings to his left had a pile of boxes taller than him lining the side of the building; those to his right sported stacks of newspapers that were nearly as bad. Either option offered ample cover for a fugitive, and he could see a darker slit between the buildings to his right that could be yet another alley. These Knockturn Alley mews and back streets were mazes of unmapped, unplottable alleys and passageways that were centuries old. They housed as many denizens of the underside of the Wizarding World as the buildings around them did.

Harry checked his wand. The tracing spell was still prodding him forward. To his right and the ominous back alley entrance, of course.

Taking a deep breath, he moved across the thin layer of snow covering the rubbish-strewn cobblestones.

He knew he was almost soundless, but almost soundless wasn't quite good enough, not when hunting a vampire. The creature he sought had enhanced senses and could probably hear his heart pumping blood and his lungs breathing from where he stood. The vampire could no doubt even smell the prostitute's blood on his hand and the sweat that was dewing his brow.

Recognizing that those kinds of thoughts weren't going to help him any, he trailed his twitching wand towards the slit between the buildings. He didn't relish the thought of following a blood-sucking monster into an uncharted back alley, but it was that or lose the bastard.

No choice. He had to go in after him.

The snow began falling harder as he slipped past a towering rubbish bin towards the alley entrance.

His gaze touched the inky shadow of the slit between the brick buildings. It was barely three feet wide. That wasn't going to give him much manoeuvring room.

He stepped forward. His wand twitched steadily, stopped, and began twitching in another direction. Upwards.

What the . . . ?

The lighting fast reflexes that he'd honed during the war with Voldemort had him spinning around before he could even consciously process his. A dark figure in a billowing black cape came hurtling down from above like a Norwegian Ridgeback, and seemed just about as unstoppable.

He had a brief impression that the creature was male, with strangely robust skin, a round, arrogant, aristocratic face, and burning red eyes that he knew better than to meet. His gaze focused on the only slightly safer view of the porcelain white fangs protruding from its full, deep red lips.

The vampire was upon him, hissing like a demon. The creature's physical strength was terrifying. The vampire picked Harry up and swung him around as though he were a child instead of a ten stone, fully grown man.

Harry grunted as his back impacted with the brick wall, temporarily dazed as the breath was knocked out of him. Somehow, he managed to hang on to both his wand and the stake. Those talon-like hands were gripping his shoulders now, holding him braced to the wall. Wide-eyed, he saw that dark, shaggy head lower towards his throat. The vampire's jaws were gaping open like a lion's. His breath was foul, reeking of blood and death.

"Expellicorpus!" he shouted frantically, using the raw power that had defeated Voldemort at seventeen to blast the vampire into the opposite alley wall with the force of one of Fred Weasley's bludgers aimed at a Slytherin. The vampire hit the bricks even harder than he had. Temporarily dazed, the dark creature crashed to the rubbish and snow covered cobblestones.

Harry raced over to his fallen foe. Not pausing to think, he pushed the vampire down flat on his back. Harry still had the stake in a death grip in his fist. He raised it high up over his head, and then plunged it down into the creature's left side.

The vampire's eyes opened as the stake ripped through his chest cavity.

Blood sprayed all over Harry's hands and face as the wooden stake breached the monster's body.

He winced at the chilling shriek and the unnaturally cool spray of blood. The claw-like hands gripped his with that same inhuman power, attempting to pull the stake back out.

To his horror, Harry felt his hands start to give way to the monster's superior strength. Grunting, he leaned forward and put all his weight behind his hands, pushing down with all his might. And still, it wasn't enough. The vampire's strength was appalling; even limited by the relatively constrained position, he was very close to pushing Harry away.

Thinking frantically, Harry muttered a charm that would triple his body weight. For a second it seemed that even that wouldn't do the trick, but then the stake crushed the rest of the way down, finally piercing the vampire's heart.

Time seemed to freeze. The creature's glowing eyes widened in disbelief, and then . . . a terrible transformation occurred. The vampire's flesh seemed to shrink in on itself, darkening to a tombstone grey. Then, lines appeared in the sere skin and it crumbled to dust, just as Professor Quirrell had in first year when he'd laid his hands upon him. All that remained when the metamorphosis was through were the vampire's expensive robes, its red satin-lined cape, wand, and Harry's wooden stake.

As he watched the wind stir the remains of what had once been another human being, he felt strangely empty inside. Before the wind could make off with his evidence, he put a preserving spell over the vampire's remains, the vampire's bloodstained clothing, cape, and the discoloured wooden stake. The preservation spell would keep the evidence pristine until he dropped it off at the MoM's Forensic Magic Lab.

He was sweating and breathing hard from the physical exertion, but inside, where a reaction to killing should be, there was only a numb, gaping void.

He tried not to think of it, but at moments like this, he couldn't help but wonder if the damn scandal sheets were right, if he was nothing but a killing machine that would one day turn on the society that had moulded him. He was like one of those legendary Muggle Mounties. He always got his man, but most times his man ended up dead.

Dead like Hermione. Dead like Ron. Dead like Sirius. Dead like Remus. Dead like Albus. Dead like everyone he'd ever touched or loved. Dead, dead, dead.

Sensing the danger there, he pulled back from those thoughts.

The job was all he had, and he gave it his all. That was why his success rate was so high. He never orchestrated events so that the miscreant he pursued ended up dead. He just pulled the assignments that tended to require him to defend himself, and he was frighteningly good at that.

With a weary sigh, Harry pocketed his wand. Plunging his hands in the accumulating snow, he cleaned as much of the blood off them as he could. He could have just used a spell, but he needed to feel something, even if it were only the freezing cold of the snow. When a man killed someone, there should be a reaction. It should hurt. But all he felt was relieved that no more innocent lives would be lost.

He brought a palmful of snow to his face, rubbed it over what he hoped was the worst of the splattered gore, and then wiped it off in his scarlet Auror robes. It left an even worse brown stain on their front than the fight and staking had caused, but it couldn't be helped.

Shivering as the sweat dried all over him and from his contact with the snow, he shrunk everything down to the size of a stamp, and put the remains in his pocket. That done, he rose to his feet and headed back to the front of the pawn shop where he'd left the vampire's final victim.

Still trembling in reaction to the fight, he cursed when he saw only the bloodstain where the dead woman had been. In his haste to apprehend Ellie's murderer, he'd forgotten to secure the crime scene. The corpse was gone.

Harry examined the snow on the paving stones, trying to see which way she might have been dragged, but there were only footprints. Whoever had taken her had probably levitated her away. By now, her remains could have been sold to a necromancer or be heating in a dozen stew pots.

Chief Parker was going to have his hide for this.

Thinking that he might be able to salvage something of this mess, he turned to begin a no doubt futile search for the prostitute's body.

* * * * *

Unsurprisingly, Harry turned up nothing. It was nearly midnight when he entered the Ministry of Magic building via its telephone kiosk. He was wet and cold to the bone. Too tired from his fruitless search to bother changing his robes, he erected a glamour around them so that they'd appear clean.

The statues in the lobby had been repaired long ago and showed no trace of the battle that had taken place here nearly fifteen years back. He passed them without a glance, making his way via the cranky elevator up to the ninth floor where the Dark Arts Unit was housed.

The DAU was a strange conglomeration of office and police station. There were holding cells in the back of the building three floors up on the side without windows, but the part where the Aurors' workstations were was a hodgepodge of desks, tea stations, and storage shelves.

Even at midnight on a snowy January night, the DAU was still manned, albeit by a lone Auror.

"Hi, Harry," Sam Edgeware looked up from his desk near the glass doored entrance and greeted him as he entered. The cheerful redhead looked even younger than he did. Every time he saw the rich colour of Sam's hair and his freckles, he couldn't help but think of Ron. "Gods, you look knackered. Rough night?"

"You could say that," Harry gave a tired smile. Although everyone he worked with respected him, Sam was one of the few who didn't treat him like either a movie star or a warm bottle of nitro-glycerine.

"You'll be relieved to hear that we caught that bloodsucking bastard," Sam announced with a grin.

"What?" he stopped in his tracks.

"You know we've been using that new fangled vampire detector while patrolling the crowds in Diagon and Knockturn Alleys. Lewis caught the bastard at about nine tonight. We've got him in a holding cell," Sam reported as he poured himself a cup of tea from the steaming kettle on his desk. "The fiend's been asking for you."

Too distracted by the bizarre statement, he found himself questioning, "Asking for me? Who is it?" rather than telling Sam that he'd already found and killed the monster they'd been hunting.

The loo door off to their left opened.

Abu Choppe, a slender dark skinned Muggleborn Auror, stopped on his way out of the loo as he overheard their conversation. "You mightn't know who we've got locked up in holding, but the vampire knows you. It's been asking for you by name. It told Chief Parker that you were acquainted and that it had urgent information it needed to share with you. That's the only reason we haven't sent it for disposal yet."

The night was getting weirder by the moment.

"You know a vampire, Harry?" Sam asked.

"Not to my knowledge," Harry answered.

"It was probably just a ploy to buy itself some time," Choppe cynically offered. "Everyone knows the Saviour of the Wizarding World."

"Who is it?" Harry asked.

"Wouldn't give its name," Choppe said. "Said it would speak only to you. We've got its wand, but the damn tracking department's closed until seven AM. You know that place keeps Gringotts' hours. We'll ID him in the morning before we send him down to disposal. Parker said they'd keep the vampire here until you spoke to it, as a courtesy to you."

"Where is the Chief?" Harry asked, not looking forward to the report he was going to have to make about losing the vampire's latest victim's body to the ghouls inhabiting Knockturn.

"You just missed him. Meal break," Sam reported. "He should be back within the hour."

"Is Forensics still open?" Harry questioned.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, why?"

Knowing better than to even attempt to detail his night before Choppe, who would circulate the embarrassing story in less time than it used to take for one of Neville's potions to explode, he evaded, "I've got some stuff I need checked out."

"Ah. Are you going to go have an interview with a vampire before visiting Forensics?" Sam asked, without so much as cracking a smile.

Choppe chortled at the pureblood's unintentional double entendre.

"What?" Sam demanded of his laughing co-worker.

Giving a small smile, Harry nodded at Sam, while Choppe said, "It would take too long to explain."

Harry gave a thought to changing his bloodstained robes before he did anything else, so that he could drop the glamour, but decided that it could wait. He'd look in on the prisoner, drop his evidence off in Forensics, confess his cock-up to the Chief, and then head home. His shift had ended hours ago. The paperwork could wait until morning.

Leaving Sam still trying to convince Choppe to explain the joke, Harry made his weary way down empty halls with their closed office and lab doors to the holding cells.

James Griffin, a beefy, brown-eyed brunet, was the guard on duty tonight. Griffin sat behind a huge oak desk that overlooked the row of locked iron cell doors. "Hi, Harry!"

Trying to ignore the near hero-worshipping tone, he returned the greeting, "Hello, Jim."

Unlike Sam, Jim made no personal comment about his bruised state. He could probably have worn his blood-drenched robes without the glamour and received the same lack of response.

"Sam Edgeware said you're holding someone here who claims to know me?" he asked.

"Yes, the, er, vampire. Lewis wanted to send him straight down to disposal, but Parker thought it best if you spoke to him first, in case it was one of your informants. Do you want to see him?" Griffin asked.

"No, I'm just down here to admire the paint." When he saw the confusion enter Griffin's vapid features, he snapped as snottily as a Malfoy, "Of course, I want to see him."

Sam or Choppe would have told him to stuff the attitude, but Griffin just paled and stammered, "Sure, Harry. No problem. He – it's in cell nine. Do you . . . want me to come with you?"

The man looked like he was about to wet himself at the very thought of being in the room with a vampire, even if that room were specially warded to disable wands and magic inside it.

Though, Harry supposed he understood Griffin's fear. He'd felt a vampire's strength himself once already tonight. He knew they didn't need magic to kill most men. Hell, for all he knew, a vampire's powers might not even be affected by the wards against conventional magic. Merlin knew, they didn't restrict his own wandless magic.

That was a fact he kept strictly to himself. The last thing he needed was to fan the rumours that already had him pin-holed as the next candidate for Dark Lord.

The holding cells' security wards were keyed to recognize all Aurors' individual magical signatures. The door slid open just as it seemed like Harry would walk straight into it.

Like most of the Wizarding World, the cells were fairly primitive when compared to their Muggle counterparts. The bed was a coffin-sized stone shelf that was part of the wall. The mattress was thin and uncomfortable looking. It had only a single blanket, no pillow. The facilities consisted of a toilet and sink, both open to the room.

The only thing that distinguished the MoM's holding cells from a dungeon was how well lit they were. The light shone down unrelentingly on the grim surroundings.

Harry didn't know what to expect as the cell door slid open. The sight of Severus Snape sitting at stiff attention on the pallet was literally the last thing he'd imagined.

His step faltered as he entered the cell. Harry was vaguely aware of the door sliding shut behind him as he met those black and impenetrable eyes.

He hadn't seen the man in the twelve years since he'd left Hogwarts. Snape seemed unchanged, virtually the same as the teacher who'd bullied him for seven years and saved his life more times than he could possibly count. Snape's long nose was still far too big for his sallow face. His shoulder length hair was still a greasy looking, unwashed horror. Beneath his crisp white collar, the trademark black jacket with the dozens of buttons, and black robes, Snape's body was as rail thin as he remembered. The most familiar thing of all was, of course, the sour expression that made Snape's already unattractive face downright homely.

"Professor?" the word was more gasp than question.

"Potter," Snape gave an acknowledging nod.

"This . . . must be some sort of mistake," Harry practically stammered; he was so thrown by Snape's presence here.

He knew his fellow Aurors would never foist this kind of joke on him, even if they could have somehow convinced Snape to play along. And, yet, this couldn't be right. Severus Snape, hero of the two wars against Voldemort, could not be a vampire. The man was a miserable bastard, but not a blood-drinking murderer.

"Unfortunately, no. Although I have never . . . preyed upon a human for survival, your detector was quite correct," Snape said, in the tone he might have used to confirm that it was snowing outside.

He remembered that deep cultured voice. Even when he'd hated the man in class, he'd found Snape's tone rich and nearly hypnotic. Now, as an adult, he found it almost . . . seductive.

Harry gave himself a mental shake. That was part of a vampire's lethal allure – his hypnotic voice.

"You're a . . . vampire? For real?" he questioned, still unable to accept the truth that was before him.

"For longer than you've been alive," Snape answered.

"And you're telling me that you never fed on a human – in thirty years? That's impossible," he said. Abruptly, all the years of distrust were there between them. When younger, he'd hated this sadistic bastard nearly as much as Voldemort, only . . . to his knowledge Snape had never once lied to him. He was the only adult Harry had ever been able to say that about. It felt wrong to start suspecting him of lying now.

"That isn't what I said. I said I never preyed on one. I've never taken blood by force. There is a difference."

"You're not suggesting that someone volunteered their blood, are you?" he asked. The only person who'd ever seemed the least bit friendly towards the cantankerous potions master had been Albus Dumbledore, and he'd been dead since the final battle.

He stared at Snape. A horrible image of hypnotized Slytherin students lining up to feed their head of house passed through his mind.

Snape snorted. "Don't be absurd. Who would volunteer their blood to feed a . . . monster? I pay for it, of course."

"Pay?" he blankly repeated, beginning to feel like a moron.

"Potter, this is hardly pertinent to the current situation," Snape said.

"Not pertinent? You just told me you've been a vampire for thirty years. I can do the math as to how many . . . feedings that involved. I'm an Auror. My job is to protect people," he argued.

"I am hardly a threat to anyone now. There is absolutely no toleration of vampires. I believe that I'm scheduled for – what was the charming phrase your colleagues employed? Oh, yes – scheduled for disposal tomorrow morning." The first hint of fear crossed that sneering face.

Harry froze. In his shock, he'd nearly forgotten their circumstances. His co-workers all believed that Snape was the fiend that had murdered those twelve people in the sensational killing spree.

Even if he proved that Snape hadn't committed those brutal murders, Snape was right. There was zero toleration of vampires. As soon as their nature was uncovered, they were destroyed. A werewolf, though feared and often loathed, would be permitted to co-exist in the Wizarding World, for as terrible as their affliction was, it was controllable. As long as the werewolf took his Wolfsbane or was safely confined during the full moon, he was no danger to society. But a vampire couldn't survive without human blood. They were predators and killers by their very nature.

"When I was young, I hated you, but . . . you never lied to me, not once that I can remember. You're telling me now that you've never preyed upon humans, even though you've been a . . . ."

"Vampire," Snape softly supplied.

". . . vampire for more than thirty years. I want to know how you feed. It's important to me," he said.

Those dark eyes held his own. "If you must know, I would approach a prostitute and explain that there was something I wished of them that it embarrassed me to speak of or to have another person remember. I assured them that what I had in mind would not harm them or cause them any pain, but that I wished to obliviate their memory when I was done because I could not afford to be blackmailed. Apparently, it is a common request from their customers. I paid them . . . exceedingly well for their cooperation. No one was ever harmed or . . . infected by my actions."

"So they never knew they were feeding a vampire," he said.

"No. I doubt that they would have agreed had they known," Snape said.

"How often did you . . . engage their services?" Harry found himself fascinated by the whole thing.

"Twice a month," Snape answered.

"But . . . ."

"There are potions that make it possible for me to survive that long between feedings. They aren't pleasant and leave me in a state of almost constant hunger, but . . . I have always maintained my controls. No one other than myself has ever suffered for my . . . affliction," Snape said.

Harry believed him. Had anyone else told him such a story, he would have dismissed it the way he did most criminals' protests of innocence, but . . . Snape sounded like he just wanted to set the record straight. He didn't seem to be asking for anything.

Abruptly, all of the unpleasant aspects of Snape's character made perfect sense to him. It sounded as though the man were practically starving himself to death between feedings. The pain had to be intense. Was it any wonder Snape was so ill tempered all the time?

"Did Professor Dumbledore know about you?" he asked.

"Yes, as does Minerva. I know it seems preposterous, but I have never been a danger to the students."

So, two of the people he'd respected most in his life had known about Snape and kept his secret. The same way they'd kept Remus' secret before him.

Remembering that Snape had requested this interview, he questioned, "Why did you ask to see me?"

"I have a favour to request," Snape stiffly said. The uneasiness that twisted Harry 's guts must have been revealed in his expression, for Snape quickly added, "I understand that there is no toleration of my kind. I am not asking you to . . . compromise yourself to that degree."

Somehow, that made him feel even worse than if Snape had asked him to help him escape, not that such a thing were possible. The MoM's holding cells mightn't be Azkaban, but they were as secure as it got outside of those dismal walls.

"What do you want, then?" Harry questioned.

"It is my understanding that I haven't been identified yet," Snape said in a questioning tone.

"That's right. They're going to run your wand in the morning when the ID department opens," Harry said. "How come no one recognized you? You fought in both wars and were decorated for your service – "

"It's been twelve years since Voldemort was defeated and even then, to hear the papers tell the story, the Boy Who Lived accomplished that victory totally on his own," Snape gave a typically snide response. "No one remembers my part in the war. Or if they do, all they recall is that I was a Death Eater."

"But you've been teaching at Hogwarts for over thirty years. Surely, someone should have known who you were," he said, still unable to believe that not a one of his co-workers had recognized Severus Snape on sight.

"Potter, I teach in the most elite school in the Wizarding World. Hogwarts accepts only forty students a year out of the entire Wizarding population of Britain. Do you know how small a percentage that is? It would be far more unlikely if someone did recognize me these days."

"So what was the favour you wanted?" Harry asked, completely uncomfortable in this situation.

"You haven't asked it of me, but I am not the monster that killed all those people," Snape began.

Not wanting Snape to think that he believed that of him, he quickly offered, "I know. I killed the murderer tonight."

To his shock, it was nearly satisfaction that crossed Snape's face, "Good."

"Good?" he questioned, startled. "I thought that you would have sympathy for someone in his position."

A very familiar anger sparked in Snape's eyes. "Sympathy? He was out of control. His hunger was no greater than mine, yet I am not running about slaughtering people. He was a weak idiot whose indulgences have cost me my life."

"I guess that makes sense," Harry said. The longer he talked to Snape, the more upset he became. This wasn't right. If what Snape was saying were true – and every instinct he had was telling him his former teacher wasn't lying to him – Snape had committed no crimes. He'd done nothing to merit the execution he'd receive come morning. "What was it you wanted from me?"

"I realize that you can do nothing to . . . assist me in my current state, but . . . ." Snape seemed uncharacteristically tongue-tied for a moment, before he appeared to force himself to continue, "I have spent the last thirty years concealing my nature. I promised both Albus and Minerva that I would never be a source of embarrassment to Hogwarts. I know it is asking you to go against the rules, but . . . could you see that my wand goes missing tonight? Let Professor Snape simply disappear. I – " he faltered again, and then went on, "I don't want my name destroyed by this. It's all I have left. Let me die just another anonymous monster."

Harry whooshed in a shocked breath. He felt like he'd just taken a blow beneath the belt. The man was here on death row, and the only help he wanted from someone whose life he'd saved a dozen times was assistance in keeping his name from being dishonoured? The courage that took was astounding. He didn't know if he could be this dignified and controlled were their positions reversed. In fact, he was sure he couldn't.

The utter wrongness of what was going to be done to Snape shrieked through his brain.

"Even if I tried to vouch for you, there's nothing my boss could do to free you. The law against vampires is enforced 100%," he said, as much to himself as Snape.

"I'm not asking that of you, Potter. All I want – "

"This is wrong! You didn't kill those people. You've done nothing to merit the death sentence," he nearly shouted.

Snape seemed genuinely startled. After a moment, he said, "I would have thought that in the twelve years you have been out of Gryffindor House that you would have learned that the world is never a fair place."

The words could have been sneered, but Snape offered them in an oddly gentle voice, as though his former student's continuing to hold onto those kinds of ideals had in some way cheered him.

"The law is supposed to be fair," Harry said, feeling like a petulant child.

Snape sighed. "And in most cases, it is. Don't trouble yourself with this, Potter. Do you think that there is one in a hundred or even a thousand of my kind who . . . would take the potions like I do? Who would choose constant hunger or choose to pay to feed rather than hunt or seduce their prey? Most are like that blood-drunk beast you put down tonight. They enjoy the hunt and enjoy the kill. The law is there to protect society."

"This is still wrong!" he insisted.

"Perhaps, but it's not your fault. Nor is it your duty to right it. All I ask is that you . . . conceal my identity," Snape said. "Will you do that for me?"

Harry ran a hand through his unruly hair. This man had fought at his side for seven long years to bring Voldemort down. He'd taught him, saved his life, and protected him whenever possible, perhaps not with either kindness or good grace, but Snape had done it all the same. He owed this man. If it weren't for Snape, he wouldn't be standing here today. Hell, for that matter, the entire Wizarding World probably wouldn't even still be here if it weren't for the information Snape had risked his life to secure during both wars.

This whole vampire thing was mind-boggling and downright terrifying, but every minute he spent with Snape convinced him that this was the same person he'd known in school. Snape might be a petty tyrant, but he wasn't some dangerous monster that needed to be put down for the good of society.

So where did that leave him? The vampire disposal law hadn't been broken, not once in the five thousand years of recorded Wizarding history. He knew there was no way he could save Snape legally. Which left him in the dilemma of having to break the law he'd sworn to protect in order to do what was right.

He'd never done that before. In twelve years of service, he'd carried out his duties to the best of his abilities. He'd never looked the other way when a crime was being committed or taken a bribe from a lawbreaker as some of his co-workers did. He just brought his prisoners in and left it for the court to decide what was right and wrong. But there'd be no court or trial for Severus Snape. The man had been condemned by his nature, and that was simply wrong.

But did the fact that he found the practice morally reprehensible really entitle him to take the law into his own hands? That was wrong, too. Only, hadn't he already all but agreed to break the law to destroy Snape's wand to protect his identity? There were no degrees of grey here. If he helped Snape at all, even so much as to protect his name, he would be breaking the law, or at the very least, obstructing it.

"Will you do it, Potter?" Snape repeated, the first sign of desperation edging into his attitude.

His mind racing, he gave a slow shake of his head, "No."

Snape winced, his eyes squeezing tightly shut. When he reopened them, there wasn't anything like surprise there. Harry couldn't even see any true anger.

"Very well. I won't trouble you further," Snape said in an arctic tone.

"You don't understand. I – I can't – "

"I know, Potter. You can't break the law you've sworn to uphold. I can't tell you how weary I am of pigheaded, Gryffindor stupidity. Take your self righteous purity out of here and leave me to your friends' less than tender mercies," Snape ordered.

"Just shut up a minute and let me think, would you?" Harry pleaded.

"Think? What are you – "

A plan forming in his mind, he cut off Snape's increasingly angry question with one of his own, "If I get you out of here, will you give me your word that you'll stay away from London?"

"What?"

"Lewis, the Auror that brought you in, and some of the others who saw you tonight, frequently patrol Diagon and Knockturn Alleys. They'd recognize your face if they saw you again, even in a crowd. If I get you out of here, you can't come back to the area, not for a long, long time."

To his confusion, Snape's expression became even more thunderous. "I don't find that at all amusing. I would have thought taunting a condemned man beneath your pretentious Gryffindor morals."

His own patience finally reached an end and he snapped, "I'm trying to save your life, you ungrateful sod. Just shut up and let me think a minute."

Snape actually seemed speechless. Finally, he said, "Potter, the cell is warded against magic. What are you going to do? Carry me out of here in your pocket?"

"Actually, that's exactly what I'm planning on doing," he replied, loving the stupefied expression on that normally controlled, sour face.

Harry reached into his robe pocket and withdrew the evidence he'd shrunk earlier that night. Crossing the cell to the empty wall on the right hand side of the door, he bent down and put the stamp-sized bundle on the floor. Closing his eyes, he drew up all of his considerable power.

The wards were strong. Even for him, it wasn't easily done. He could feel the sweat breaking out on his brow, and Snape's gaze digging into the side of his face. But finally, when he pushed, the wards gave. The tiny objects he'd placed on the cold grey tiles swelled in size until they were a set of empty black boots, clothes, and cape.

Another moment's concentration, he transfigured the cape into robes like Snape's. He reached out and pocketed the vampire's wand. He was going to need that later.

"Very impressive," Snape's soft voice came from behind him. "Do your co-workers know you can circumvent their top level security?"

"Do you think I'd be alive or free if they did?" Harry answered.

"Potter . . . I'm not asking you to do this. I only asked that you preserve my anonymity," Snape stiffly stated.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer preserving your life. You want to live, don't you?"

Snape's gaze dropped and he gave a reluctant nod. He rallied quickly enough to ask, "May I enquire as to what you have planned, since we are both likely to lose our lives with this scheme of yours? Is that what I think it is leaking out of those clothes?"


"My superior was on meal break when I returned to headquarters. I didn't get a chance to report what happened with the vampire tonight in Newt Eye Mew. I was going to drop this evidence off at Forensics after I saw . . . the prisoner. There's no reason the killer can't have died in this cell instead of out on the street."

"You intend to perpetuate a fraud upon your co-workers for my sake? Pretend this vampire is me?" Snape asked.

"Look, I don't like the idea, all right? But it's the only thing I can think of."

"You could walk out of here right now. In fact, that is what I urge you to do," Snape shocked him by saying.

"But you still want me to waylay your wand?" At Snape's nod, he said. "Newsflash for you, Professor, that's breaking the law, too."

"It's a lesser crime."

"Do you think that'll matter to my Chief? If I'm going to break the law, it's going to be for a damn good reason – like saving your miserable hide," Harry said.

"There's no reason for us both to lose our lives."

"If this goes right, no one's going to lose their life. I'm not leaving you here to die for a crime you didn't commit. You'd better stand up so that the shrinking spell hits only you and not the bed." When Snape failed to move, he gave an irritated, "Do you want to live or not?"

Snape gave him a strange look, and said, "I just want it to be known that I have grave misgivings about this entire plan."

"You had grave misgivings about every damn thing we ever did during the war," Harry said, more exasperated than angry.

"How often was I proven correct?" Snape challenged.

"That's not the point," he actually smiled, because more often than not, Snape had been right and the Order's operations would go pear shaped.

"No, heaven forefend that logic ever enter into the Gryffindor mind," Snape countered. "As I suspect that we both will be dead or separately incarcerated in a matter of minutes, I suppose I should say that . . . ."

"Yes?" Harry prodded, not really caring what Snape said, as long as he got his skinny arse up off that bed so that he could safely shrink him down.

Sounding as if he were forcing every word, Snape said, "I appreciate what you are attempting to do for me here. I didn't expect this."

"I know. And if it doesn't work out, it was all my idea. So there's nothing to feel guilty about, all right? Now, would you please get up off that bed?"

Snape reluctantly took his feet.

He'd forgotten how tall the potions master was. Even now, Snape had a good six inches on him. Snape had to be six-four or six-five.

Harry closed his eyes and focused his power on the other wizard. When he opened them a minute later, Snape no longer seemed to be in the room. He looked down at the floor, where a mouse-sized Snape was glowering up at him in obvious irritation.

Stifling his smile, he knelt down and laid his open palm on the floor in front of his former teacher. His face twisting in visible distaste, Snape stepped into his hand. He was as light as a feather. Using his other hand to guarantee that he didn't drop the tiny man, he carefully transferred Snape to his empty left hand robe pocket.

"Are you all right in there?" he asked.

A muffled squeak that might have been a yes emerged from the vicinity of his hips, but the response was too high-pitched to translate. Figuring that an uncomfortable ten minutes or so was better than a stake through the heart come morning, Harry took a final look at the clothes on the floor with their disgusting ashes leaking out of the neck of the robe and its sleeves.

For all intents and purposes, it did look like the creature had died here.

He checked to make certain that the vampire's wand was still safely stored in his right pocket. After he removed the glamour concealing the gruesome bloodstains on his scarlet Auror robes, he stepped out into the hall.

It wasn't hard to appear shaken as Jim Griffin ran up to him. If this went wrong, both Snape and he were goners.

"Harry, are you all right? My god, man, what's happened?" the paling guard asked as his brown eyes travelled down the front of Harry's fouled robe.

"The thing attacked me. Luckily, I still had that stake in my pocket."

"He's dead?" Griffin stepped past him. The cell door opened for him and he stood there staring for a long moment before commenting, "Well, I guess we won't be needing the disposal unit, after all. You okay, Harry?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I'm going to go clean up and then report to the Chief. Thanks for your help, Jim."

Harry made a mental note that if he ever ended up in command, Griffin would definitely not be left alone at such an important post. Even in first year, he would have questioned someone with a clean face and hands who'd claimed to have just driven a stake through a man's heart.

The next hour was a blur of verbal reports and debriefing. His Chief was incredibly supportive, as was the rest of the staff. They all seemed relieved that they wouldn't have to be involved in the disposal of the vampire.

Every now and then, he would feel Snape's tiny, warm form shift in his pocket, but otherwise, he nearly forgot the man was there.

When Harry was finally allowed to go home, he made a brief stop down in the evidence room. Replacing the dead vampire's wand for Professor Snape's was almost too easy. Worried by how vulnerable the MoM was to internal sabotage, he headed to the building's Apparition point and apparated home.

Once in his flat, he quickly apparated to Hogwarts' main gates.

For all that it felt like he'd been up the entire night, dawn was still a few hours off.

The snow was still falling; only it was heavier here up north. There was over a foot on the ground. The castle looked like something from a fairy tale with its glistening white mantle. Looking at Hogwarts' mostly dark windows, its elegant towers, and spires, Harry was hit with an intense wave of homesickness. Merlin, how he missed this place. The only happy days he'd ever known had been spent here with Ron and Hermione.

But those days were as gone as they were.

Snape shifted in his pocket, reminding him of why he was here.

He carefully withdrew his passenger from his robe pocket. The potions master was like a doll in his hand. Though he probably looked more like a Muggle action figure than any doll Harry had seen.

Cautiously holding Snape in one hand, he retrieved a clean handkerchief, and then bent down. With his free hand, he spread the white cotton hankie over the snow. He didn't want to put Snape down and lose the man in a pile of freezing snow. He figured the poor sod had been through enough trauma for one night.

He lowered Snape to the handkerchief as though he were fine porcelain. Despite his care, Snape landed in a sprawl on his back on the uneven, shifting surface. It was strange to see that tiny sour face staring up at him from such an inelegant, vulnerable position.

He half-expected Snape to start growing in size before he could voice the spell to do it himself, but then he remembered that he had the potion master's wand in his other pocket. Knowing that Snape couldn't be enjoying this, he quickly muttered the reversal spell.

Even after nearly nineteen years, the practical application of magic still amazed him on some level. He watched Snape's small form swell in size until he had to bend his head slightly back to meet the man's eyes. The snow crunched underfoot as Snape gained weight and sank down through it.

Once again, Snape dwarfed him.

When the enlargement spell stopped, they simply stood there staring at each other in the freezing night, with their breaths puffing around them in the icy air.

Neither of them seemed to know what to say, but the silence wasn't exactly awkward. For the first time in memory, there didn't seem to be any animosity between them.

Finally, Snape said, "Not many men would have done what you did for me tonight, Potter."

"Not many would have done what you did when you spied on Voldemort for the Order," he countered.

"Nevertheless, I'm . . . indebted to you." Those words came hard to the proud man.

Recognizing how much Snape hated being beholden to anyone, he quietly reminded, "I can't count the number of times you saved me when I was young, sir. I still owe you a few. We're not even near even."

Though Snape said nothing, some of the stoniness left his expression.

"Oh, I've still got your wand," Harry remembered, and handed Snape back the eleven inch mahogany wand he'd stolen from the evidence shelf.

"Thank you," Snape gravely acknowledged, accepting the offered wand.

"Well, good night, then, Professor," he said. The cold of the night was beginning to accentuate both his exhaustion and the bruises he'd received in his fight with the vampire. The other vampire.

He still couldn't fully wrap his mind around the idea that Snape was like that foul creature he'd killed tonight. But, then, he supposed it was like Albus Dumbledore always said – people's choices determined who and what they truly were. Severus Snape had no more in common with that loathsome monster than he himself had with Lord Voldemort, although to outsiders they might share traits with both.

Snape appeared almost surprised; though by what, Harry had no clue. Curious, he stifled a yawn and asked, "What?"

"I rather thought that you might wish to see Minerva to confirm what I told you tonight," Snape said.

"At three thirty two in the morning on a school day? I know you think all Gryffindors have a death wish, but even we know when caution is the better part of valour."

The corners of Snape's pale, thin lips twitched in what might have been a smile. "Good night, then, Potter."

"Professor?" he impulsively called out as Snape started to walk through the towering gates they were paused before.

"Yes?"

"Might I come visit you later this week? I have a few questions."

In the past Snape would have wasted no time in telling him precisely what he could do with his questions, but tonight there was no immediate sneer of denial. Instead, there came a grudging, "I suppose I owe you that much."

"You don't have to – " Harry began to protest.

"Yes, I do. You've underplayed the chance you took in believing me and helping me. I do appreciate the danger you placed yourself in on my behalf, as well as the . . . level of trust involved in releasing an outlawed monster into a school full of oblivious children. You'd be a fool if you didn't have some concerns. It's in my best interest to alleviate your worries. Will Friday evening be soon enough for you, say around eight, after detentions have ended?"

He'd expected Snape to fight him tooth and nail on this. The easy concession to cold logic was off setting. "That would be fine. Thank you."

"I believe that should be my line," Snape corrected with an urbane lift of his brow. "Till Friday, then."

"Goodbye, sir," he said.

As Snape turned to make his way into the castle, he apparated home.

*****

The week rushed by for Harry.

The following morning the Daily Prophet headlines read "Boy Who Lived Once Again Frees World of Evil," the article went on to vividly detail how he'd been attacked in a MoM holding cell by the vampire responsible for the recent wave of killings and forced to kill the creature. He was once again assaulted by his celebrity.

Whenever an article like this would appear, he'd be stopped in the streets and hounded for weeks afterwards; well, hounded more than usual. There was always a certain level of . . . fawning that went on. It made his soul ache sometimes.

Although Harry spent the remainder of the next few days at work on tenterhooks, waiting to be called on the carpet for what he'd done to help Snape escape, not a single question was ever voiced.

The wand he'd switched for Snape's was used to identify the killer as one Alexander Colmes, of Brighton. No mention was ever made of the fact that the wand the Identification Bureau processed was made of yew, while the evidence records clearly stated that it was a mahogany wand that Lewis had signed into the evidence room after capturing the vampire.

No one in authority asked him what he and the vampire had discussed for the sixteen minutes he'd been alone with the man before he'd purportedly been attacked. No one questioned why he'd returned to headquarters after his shift instead of returning home. No one asked him why the vampire had requested to see him in the first place.

Whether the failure to properly investigate the incident was due to the fact that he was the Boy Who Lived, Voldemort's vanquisher, and the saviour of the Wizarding World, or simply due to shoddy police work, Harry didn't know. All he knew was that the ease with which he'd accomplished his deception unnerved him.

It shouldn't have been that easy. He'd thought they were better than this.

By the time Friday evening rolled around, Harry was more than ready to get out of London. He supposed he could have simply apparated to Hogwarts' gates and walked down to the dungeons, but as an Auror he was conscious of violating the school's security. Also, he didn't relish causing a stir among the students. He'd had enough attention this week as it was. He'd owled Headmistress McGonagall yesterday and received permission to floo to her office.

Minerva and Hagrid were about the only two people from his past that he saw on a regular basis. Every month or so, he'd meet with one or both of them in the Three Broomsticks for dinner.

The floo system was as stomach churning as ever. When he stepped out of the hearth into Minerva's office, which still looked very much like Professor Dumbledore's, another burst of melancholic homesickness passed through him.

Albus' portrait stood on the wall beside the Headmistress' desk. The blue robed, grey bearded wizard grinned at him as he stepped onto the area rug and shook the soot off himself.

"Hello, Harry! It's good to see you. It's been far too long," Dumbledore's image twinkled at him.

His throat choking up already, Harry forced as much of a smile as he could muster. "Hello, sir. I miss, I mean, I've missed you, too."

"Harry!" Minerva's cheerful voice greeted from the other side of the room.

Getting hold of his wayward emotions, he turned to her with the first real smile in what felt like forever.

She looked very much the same as she had in his school days. There was a touch more silver in her dark hair, but her eyes still sparkled with warmth and her slender figure crackled with a pent up energy that belied her often prim and severe expression.

"Hello, Minerva," he said, returning her brief hug.

"It's good to see you," she said.

"Yes, Albus was just saying that," he said. "I hadn't realized how long it's been since I've actually been in the school."

She smiled, "Well, you're here now. You know you're always welcome and that Hogwarts will always be your home, if you want it."

Swallowing hard, he nodded. "Thank you. That means a lot."

Her eyes grew almost sad as she regarded him. "There were good times and pleasant memories here, too, Harry. Don't allow the losses to let you lose sight of them."

He gave another nod.

"You know that I'll have the DADA position opening up again next September," she said with a smile.

"Not again," he laughed, jumping at the change of topic. It was a running joke between them. Every year or so, she offered him the Dark Arts position.

"I'm afraid so. Professor Harlow will be leaving us this summer. I know we make light of the issue, but I would like you to seriously consider the opening. If nothing else, it will get you out of the spotlight for a while," she said.

"You saw the Daily Prophet article, then?" he asked, weary of the fuss.

"Yes. Severus spoke to me as well on Tuesday morning. He told me what you did for him. I know that can't have been easy. I'm very grateful to you."

"He told you what happened?" Harry was frankly surprised. He hadn't doubted Snape's word when he'd told him that Minerva was aware of his condition. However, he hadn't anticipated that Snape would so readily update her on Monday night's incident.

She nodded. "He was concerned that the school could still be embroiled in a scandal if . . . Monday 's events were to come to light."

"I don't think there will be any further problems." Harry hadn't intended to broach this topic with Minerva, but now that she'd brought it up, he found himself asking, "How long have you . . . known about him?"

"Nearly as long as I've known him. Harry, I know what the Ministry's stand on vampires is, but Severus Snape isn't a monster," she told him in her head of house tone.

"I could see that," he said, surprised by how protective and nearly frightened she seemed for Snape. "I'm not here in my official capacity, Minerva. If I'd had any doubts at all, I would never have helped him."

She nodded. "I've never seen anybody wage the battle he has against his nature. He suffers so much, fights so bravely. He's never hurt anyone – "

"I'm not here to arrest or judge him," he assured her. "I really just want to talk to him. I couldn't believe it when I saw him sitting in that cell. How did this happen to him?"

Her face tightened. "That's really his place to tell you. I don't really know the details myself. All I know is that he was quite young when . . . he was changed, barely a year out of school. Eventually, he came to Albus for help and – "

"Professor Dumbledore gave him a job and a safe home," he completed.

She nodded. "Yes. Severus has never given either Albus or myself a moment's concern when it comes to the safety of our students. I know you don't like the man personally, but he – "

"I'm not twelve anymore, Minerva. I don't dislike him. At least, not the way I used to."

She nodded, seeming less worried. "No one on the staff knows of his affliction besides myself and Madame Pomfrey."

"His secret's safe with me," he promised her, hating to see her so afraid . . . of him. "I swear I'm just here to talk to him, nothing more."

"Well, you'd best go down, then. He's been . . . very distracted today," she said.

"The poor kids. That usually means twice as many detentions as usual," he joked.

Her eyes were still shadowed with worry, but she smiled and agreed, "Yes, I imagine so. His rooms are at the end of the same dungeon corridor that the Potions Lab is on."

"Thanks. Are you free for dinner next Saturday?" he asked her, hoping to lighten the mood.

"I'd like that very much," she said. "I'll check with Hagrid and get back to you."

"Good," he smiled, thinking that things might actually get back to normal between them. Having Minerva McGonagall frightened of him wasn't something he could live with. She hadn't feared him when he'd conquered the Dark Lord, but now she was frightened of him on Severus Snape's behalf.

With another hug, he left her office. The moving staircase with its guardian gargoyle statue brought back a thousand memories.

The halls were nearly empty this late on a Friday night. He was glad he'd worn his blue jeans and heavy black jumper beneath his black wizard robes. The castle was freezing this time of year, the dungeons especially so.

As Harry walked through the familiar, portrait-lined corridors and stairs, he was unable to stop thinking about how protective Minerva had been of Professor Snape.

He wasn't at all sure what he was going to say to Snape. The man didn't owe him any kind of explanation. He really had no right to intrude on Snape's privacy this way, but he was curious.

He'd met very few vampires in the twelve years he'd been an Auror. Snape was the only one that hadn't been a threat to society. But then, it was like everything else, his job only brought him in contact with the lawbreakers. If there were other vampires in hiding like Professor Snape was, he'd never met them.

What he'd done for Snape Monday night hadn't been easy. His conscience was still troubling him. Snape was right, he needed some reassurance that he hadn't made a terrible mistake that could cost innocent children their lives. But he still wasn't sure that gave him the right to impinge on the man's privacy like this, even with an invitation.

Minerva's worry for Snape's safety around him was preying on his thoughts, making him doubt the wisdom of this trip at all. If she were worried, how must Snape be feeling? He hadn't realized it until this very moment, but Snape might be anticipating his visit the way a heretic would a visit with the Inquisition.

Finally, the heavy oak door to the potion master's private quarters was in front of him. Snape's wards were as thick as his own, which only made sense, since he'd learned most of them from Snape. Recalling how many of the skills that had kept him alive over the years that he'd acquired from his unwilling teacher, he felt almost like a traitor as he knocked upon the door.

It opened immediately. Snape stood in the shadows beside the open door. In his usual black garb, the potions master looked as tall, dark, and menacing as ever.

Appreciating just how menacing this man could actually be if he had a mind to, Harry forced a nervous smile and said, "Hello."

"Potter," Snape returned his greeting and then asked with stiff formality, "Come in. Would you care for a drink?"

Harry almost didn't hear the question; he was so startled by the nearly cosy room in which he found himself. "Ah, yes, please. Fire Whisky, if you've got it."

He could use some false courage.

"Of course. Please have a seat," Snape invited.

He supposed stiff civility was better than their usual enmity. Perhaps that animosity was a thing of the past. He really hadn't seen Snape since he was a teenager. A lot could change in twelve years.

The room was warm, nearly uncomfortably so. He opened his robes and stared curiously about him.

While Snape moved to a small table against the left wall that seemed to function as a bar, he studied the sitting room. A huge fire blazed in the hearth opposite him. Its warmth spilled over him, dispelling the damp chill of the dungeons around him.

The furniture consisted of a long grey upholstered couch with a couple of matching winged back chairs flanking it. There was a coffee table in front of the couch, end tables next to each chair and other tables scattered throughout the room. The rug underfoot was a deep green. The walls were lined with shelves that were crowded with books and odd magical artefacts that throbbed with power.

The easy chair to the right of the fire had an open book on its arm. A pile of similar tomes was stacked on the nearby end table beside a steaming cup of what looked like tea.

Snape's place had more personality than his own flat did, Harry realized self-consciously. These tasteful living quarters were not at all what he'd expected of Severus Snape, especially after what he'd learned about the man on Monday night. He was well educated enough to know that vampires didn't sleep in coffins as suggested in Muggle fiction and cinema, but he'd never thought of them living in quite so normal a manner. In fact, 'normal' wasn't a word that sprang to mind regarding anything concerning Snape. But this was nice and it comforted his jagged nerves.

As requested, he took a seat in the winged back chair across from the one with the open potions book and tea.

While he waited for Snape to bring him his whisky, he reviewed what he knew about vampires. Most of the ideas he'd gleaned from Muggle cinema were inaccurate. Vampires didn't need to sleep in either their native soil or a coffin, nor were they afraid of either garlic or crosses. They couldn't turn into either mist or a bat – unless, of course, the vampire was an animagus and the bat was his second form. Vampires wouldn't shatter to dust if exposed to direct sunlight, but like any nocturnal creature, they didn't like bright lights. While a vampire could consume human food and drink, they couldn't live on it alone.

The two facts that Muggle cinema had gotten right were that a vampire had no reflection in a mirror and that it needed human blood to survive. The Dark Arts texts he'd checked over the last week had been vague about the quantity and frequency of the vampire's need for human blood. That was one of the things he'd come to question Snape on. Snape had said that he only fed once every two weeks, but the books he'd read all insisted that even with the potions, a vampire would need to feed every few days to remain healthy.

Of course, a lack of feeding could explain Snape's horrible complexion and ill temper.

His ruminations were interrupted as Snape brought him his drink like any good host. It was almost like they were playing roles – Snape as the gracious host, himself the polite guest. He knew it couldn't last, but he was grateful for it at the moment.

Harry reached up to accept his drink, a casual thanks on his lips. When his gaze settled on Snape's face he nearly lost his hold on the cool glass.

"My god, what's happened to you?" he gasped, taking a grip on the offered drink.

Now that they were in the full light, he could see that Snape's skin was more than just sallow tonight. It was nearly grey.

Snape pulled quickly back from him. He watched the tall, lean figure cross to the hearth and stare down into the dancing fire for a time. The flickering light did nothing to improve his harsh profile, lending Snape a sinister edge as the orange light shifted across his face in patterns and shadows.

When he thought Snape wouldn't answer, the deep voice reluctantly offered, "Monday night happened. I was prevented from feeding and now that avenue has been closed to me."

"Oh." Great. He was here with a hungry vampire, and in his usual Gryffindor stupidity, he'd neglected to bring a stake. Of course, he was powerful enough to transfigure one, but that would hardly be a diplomatic way to begin his visit.

Snape's disgusted expression and tone were familiar to him of old as his former teacher all but sneered, "Don't worry, Potter. I'm in complete control."

"But for how long?" Harry couldn't keep himself from asking.

Snape turned to meet his gaze. "For however long it takes."

He read the truth in that. The only trait more pronounced than his rudeness was Snape's iron will. This man could out-stubborn sixteen year olds, and that was saying something.

"How bad is it?" he couldn't help but ask.

"Have you ever been starved, Potter? Not simply missed a meal, but missed them for days, maybe weeks on end?"

Gulping at the ravenous hunger he could now clearly read in those dark eyes, he nodded. "My aunt and uncle used to punish me by withholding food."

"It's like that. Only a thousand times worse, because I can feel and smell the substance that will ease my agony flowing through the veins of those around me. I think that is why so many of my kind snap and become . . . predatory. The torment is constant and the temptation indescribable."

"And yet you resist it," Harry softly said.

"To give into temptation is to lose myself forever. My choices are all that separate me from that loathsome creature you killed on Monday."

Relaxing a little, he gently asked, "What will you do now that you can't visit London? Hogsmeade – "

"Is too close. I would be too readily recognized in certain sections of town. I won't do anything to embarrass the school or compromise the Headmistress. You needn't worry about that, Potter."

"Actually, it was you I was thinking of," he corrected. He could see the tension in that tight held body, see how utterly unwell Snape looked. His eyes were sunken and hollow, almost glittering with pain.

Snape gave a droll, "How altruistic of you," that seemed totally forced.

A heavy silence fell between them. After a few uncomfortable moments, Snape asked in a weary manner, "You have questions?"

"Yes, but . . . they can wait until you're feeling well," Harry said. He felt uncomfortable hounding the man when he was suffering. "I can come back at a better time."

"I haven't felt 'well' in more than thirty years. There won't be a 'better time'. And if you imagine that I have any desire to do this again, you're more of an idiot than I took you for. So ask your questions so that we can be quit of each other."

Harry sucked in a shocked breath. Snape still knew how to make him feel like a rank schoolboy. But he wasn't a schoolboy. He was an Auror and the man before him represented a threat to their entire world. "First of all, I'm not your student anymore, so don't take that tone with me. If you think I want to be here, you're wrong, dead wrong. I just . . . I have to be certain I didn't make a mistake in what I did for you Monday night. I've broken laws and jeopardized both society and my job by helping you. My intervention gives me a certain amount of responsibility for both you and your actions. I . . . need to know I've done the right thing."

"Understandable. I'm sure my current behaviour isn't reassuring your concerns," Snape sounded as though he were reprimanding himself.

"Actually, it is," Harry said. "You are your typical charming self. Exactly as I remember you."

Snape released a loud, exasperated sounding breath and then moved to take his seat in the chair with the book on its arm. The book tumbled to the floor as Snape's arm brushed against it. Snape left it where it fell and gripped the chair arms. "That is hardly conducive to convincing you that I'm no danger to society. You used to consider me the anti-Christ."

That was a strange comment for a pureblood wizard to make, but even from here, he could see that many of the books on the shelves around them were of Muggle origin. Appreciating the effort Snape was making, he tried a smile and said, "That's because you were the anti-Christ – to your students."

"And you find that worth saving?" Although he could be difficult to read, Snape seemed confused.

"Being strict and dislikeable are not grounds for execution," Harry answered.

"But being a vampire is," Snape reminded.

"That law was designed to protect society from the type of killer that attacked me Monday night. You're not in his category."

"In the eyes of the Ministry I am," Snape objected.

"It's not the Ministry you have to worry about at the moment," he answered.

The words should have been a threat, but even he could hear the odd inflection in his tone.

Snape silently watched him for a moment before asking, "So what do you want to know?" His voice was a strange mix of tension and exhaustion.

Harry tried to ignore how tightly Snape was clutching the chair arms. His companion's yellow-stained, long-fingered hands looked almost like eagle talons. He was uncomfortably reminded of the creature he'd fought on Monday, a creature with the same affliction as Snape.

Recalling Snape's earlier admission, he wondered if the other man were sitting there smelling his blood and holding himself back from attacking.

"Potter, if you've simply come to gape at me, I can do without the audience," Snape reprimanded.

"I'm sorry," he got hold of himself. "I know this is hard for you."

"You don't know a thing!" Snape snarled with his usual foul humour.

"So educate me," Harry countered.

"I tried to do that for seven long years and failed miserably," Snape replied.

"Professor . . . ."

"Well what do you want to know? I've already assured you that I'm not a danger, that I don't hunt to survive. What more can I tell you?"

"Maybe . . . how this happened to you?" he hesitantly asked. "If it's not too personal."

Snape snorted. "How do you think it happened? A vampire bit my neck, induced me to drink his blood, and . . . I woke up three days later . . . changed."

"So you were attacked then?" he asked, unable to keep the question in.

There was a long silence, and then Snape gave a low, "No. That would absolve me of responsibility. Seduced would be a better word. There was no physical force applied. I damned myself to this fate through my own weakness."

"That's very . . . unforgiving," Harry said, surprised by Snape's vehemence.

"The consequences were unforgiving. I was a fool and I've paid for my folly every day of my life since."

When Harry was younger, he'd never heard Snape berate himself for anything. It made him feel more kindly towards his former nemesis, so much so that it allowed him to question in a soft tone, "How old were you?"

"A year out of Hogwarts. Eighteen, I think. I'd just started university."

"How did you meet the vampire?"

Snape met his eyes and asked in a subdued tone, "Do you really want to hear this?"

"Yes," Harry said, his stomach fluttering a little under that intense stare.

"Why?"

He supposed it was a fair question. What he was requesting to know was no doubt highly personal and really had nothing to do with his concerns for anyone's safety. "I . . . I'm trying to understand. This has shaken every conviction I ever had about you."

"There isn't much to understand. I wasn't . . . any better favoured in appearance at eighteen than I am now. I was utterly inexperienced, to boot. The . . . vampire who turned me was without exception the most attractive man I'd ever seen. I didn't stand a chance in resisting him."

Harry couldn't help but start at that. He couldn't picture this repressed loner in a sexual situation at all, let alone being wanton enough to drink someone's blood in the heat of the moment.

Snape gave a sharp, humourless bark of laughter beside him. "Another illusion shattered, Potter? Have I offended your conventional sensibilities with yet another unnatural aberration?"

"I didn't know you . . . preferred men, sir," he replied, not understanding why the fact that Snape was like him would make his heart start racing the way it was. He took a deep breath and tried to relax.

"You didn't know I was one of the undead until four days ago. You don't know a thing about me."

"I'm beginning to realize that," he said softly. "And just for the record, you haven't offended my sensibilities. That would be a little hypocritical of me."

He didn't know why he was telling Snape that. His own preferences were hardly pertinent to why he was here. Hell, they were hardly pertinent at all.

Preferences were only important if you acted upon them. He was honest enough to recognize that in his own way, he was as closed-off and as emotionally crippled as Snape. He simply hid it better.

"I see." Snape's eyebrow rose in an expressive gesture.

Wanting to deflect the conversation from the pathetic state of his own nonexistent love life, Harry asked, "What happened to the vampire who . . . turned you?"

Snape shrugged. "I never saw him again. I lost my virginity and immortal soul to a complete stranger I met at one of Malfoy's Halloween galas. I woke up alone three nights later in the basement of a deserted house we'd . . .sheltered in."

'Sheltered in', not 'shagged in'. He noticed the care Snape took with his words. His former teacher could have made this interview intensely uncomfortable for him by being deliberately crude. Although Snape seemed to be being quite scrupulous at sticking to the facts, he also seemed to be trying to relate his tale in a palatable manner. He couldn't help but admire him for the restraint. His years as an Auror had shown him how often people tried to manipulate their audience and make a play for sympathy while relating their stories. Snape was refreshingly discreet.

"Look, I don't understand a hell of a lot about vampirism, but it's damn clear you haven't lost your soul," Harry protested. "If you had, you wouldn't be starving yourself the way you do, and you wouldn't care about embarrassing the school."

Snape appeared shocked by his words. Finally, Snape gave a very uneasy sounding, "That's kind of you to say."

"It's just the truth," Harry dismissed and then continued with his earlier line of questioning. "Did you know what had happened to you when you woke up?"

Snape shook his head. "Not at first. I thought that I'd been drugged. My senses were frighteningly affected. When I woke up, I could hear the heartbeats of the rats in the derelict building around me. I could smell their blood, taste the dust in the air."

"You must have been terrified," Harry commented without thinking.

Snape seemed surprised by his words. After a moment Snape nodded. "Yes, but it was also . . . exhilarating. I'd never felt more alive or powerful. It was totally intoxicating – until the hunger hit, and I came to understand what had been done to me."

"How – "

Snape spared him the necessity of asking the awkward question. "There were no more heartbeats among the rodent population when I left that house."

Once he would have been disgusted by that kind of statement, but he'd seen a lot in the twelve years he'd served as an Auror. The denizens of Knockturn Alley ate far worse things than rats.

"You couldn't live on rats' blood, though," Harry said, making it a question.

"Not for long. Their blood doesn't supply the proper nutrients. After a time, a vampire who feeds only on rodent blood becomes mentally deficient. His hunger grows, while his judgement and controls slip. It's a recipe for disaster."

"What did you do after you left the empty house?"

"I . . . suppose I lost my mind for a time. I was . . . inconsolable in my rage and horror. Fortunately, I was sensible enough to refrain from becoming a hazard to society. I threw myself into my potions studies, desperately searching for a cure. It was while I was at Oxford that I began to buy whores, drink their blood, and obliviate their memories to survive. I didn't care about myself or my future, for I didn't believe I had one. I fell further and further into despair, until – "

"You went to Professor Dumbledore for help?" Harry guessed.

Snape straightened a bit in his chair and averted his gaze. "If only I'd been that wise. No, it was Lucius Malfoy I encountered. He was recruiting for Voldemort. I believe that you are familiar with the rest of that sorry tale."

Harry nodded and asked, "Did Voldemort and Malfoy know what you were?"

Snape gave a negative shake of his head. "Keeping my secret to myself was perhaps the one smart decision I made during those years."

"What happened after that?"

Snape continued in a soft voice, "It was nearly a year before I came to my senses and recognized what would happen to me if I remained in Voldemort's ranks. By that time I had taken the mark. I didn't believe there was anyone who would help me, twice damned as I was – a vampire and Death Eater." As he spoke, Snape's tone changed, becoming more animated. Harry had the feeling that Snape wanted to tell his story. After all, it wasn't as though he'd had anyone to share this with. There had to be a cathartic element to finally being able to tell someone about the horrible things that had happened to him. "In desperation I turned to Albus. The most I'd hoped for was that he would . . . deal with me himself. I didn't want to starve to death in Azkaban or be disposed of by the Ministry. Those were the only two fates I could imagine after all I'd done. Albus gave me a third option, one that held the promise of hope and redemption. He never allowed me to view myself as a monster or treated me as one. He was . . . an extraordinary man."

"I wish I'd known him better," Harry said. Hermione and Ron's loss in the final battle with Voldemort had eclipsed everything else, even Albus Dumbledore's death.

Snape nodded. As their eyes met there was a moment of perfect communion between them at their shared loss.

The unexpected closeness shocked him nearly as much as learning Snape's secret had on Monday.

"There's one thing that's been bothering me since I found out about you," Harry said, needing to air his anger.

Snape gave a snide, "Only one thing has been bothering you?"

"Well, one thing especially. In my third year, you revealed Remus Lupin's werewolf nature to the school, ruining his chances for employment in the Wizarding World."

"Yes," Snape answered, in the tone another man might have used to acknowledge putting the dog out.

"Don’t you find that rather hypocritical?" Harry demanded, trying to keep a hold on his temper. They'd never done well when arguing, and he was sensible enough to realize that becoming furious with a starving vampire was probably not the wisest of strategies. "I mean, you both had similar secrets that could have destroyed you, yet you betrayed his."

"This isn't something I'd expect a Gryffindor to understand," Snape said.

"I'm trying really hard to hold onto my temper here. Cracks like that aren't helping," he warned in a tight voice. "How could you do that to him when you were in the exactly the same situation?"

"It was because I was in the same situation that I did it," Snape answered.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that he forgot to take the potion that enabled him to safely associate with society. He allowed himself to become a lethal hazard when all that he needed to do to prevent that from happening was drink a cure that he already had in his possession," Snape said.

"He forgot once, " Harry hotly defended. "On a night when he found out that his best friend was innocent of the murders of his other closest friends. They were extreme circumstances. Remus made an honest mistake. Anyone could have done it."

"People like your friend Lupin and me, we can't afford mistakes. When we make a mistake, innocents die," Snape said in a voice like steel. "If Black hadn't been there that night, you and your friends would have all fallen victim to Lupin's mistake."

"So you're saying that the only reason you did it was to protect us? That you got no personal satisfaction at all out of destroying him?" Harry challenged, because he knew this man's pettiness.

"I admit that I took a perverse pleasure in what I did. I make no excuses. Lupin had proven himself an untrustworthy menace, and whether you like it or not, he didn't belong hiding in a school of innocent children." Snape met and held his glare, before adding, "My disclosure was not made without personal risk. He could just as easily have revealed my secret to the populace if he'd wanted his revenge."

"Remus knew what you were?" he asked, stunned.

"His senses were as acute as my own. Though we never discussed it, he had to have known," Snape replied.

"Why wouldn't he have told, then?" Harry wondered aloud, part of him still childish enough to wish that Remus had told. Maybe Snape wouldn't be so damn sanctimonious, then. Of course, if Remus had betrayed Snape's secret, it would have cost Snape his life.

"Lupin and I were attempting to do what very few of our kind can manage – to blend invisibly into normal society. We live our lives knowing that every day our mere presence endangers those around us . . . those we might hold dear. We make a conscious decision to never allow ourselves to hurt the humans we live with, no matter the cost to ourselves. We have got to be our own Aurors, and our own jailers, when necessary. Lupin knew that he'd failed, that he'd betrayed Albus' trust and endangered every one of his students. I can't be certain, but I assume he didn't betray my secret because he knew I was right."

"What you did to him still doesn't seem right," Harry insisted.

"You make a strong case for sympathizing with Lupin, and I do allow that the circumstances that caused him to neglect taking his potion were incredibly stressful, but we were involved in a war with a Dark Lord. The circumstances weren't going to become less stressful; they were going to become more fraught. What would have been the right course for me to take? To remain silent and hope that the next time he had a stressful experience on a full moon that whatever unfortunate student he happened upon would somehow escape a werewolf unscathed? Do you have any idea how close you and your friends came to losing your humanity, if not your very lives?"

"I was there. I know how . . . dangerous that night was," Harry shot back.

"May I ask you a question, then?" Snape requested with a strange formality.

Gritting his teeth, he nodded. He knew he wasn't going to like whatever was coming.

"You're an adult now, and an Auror. You have the responsibility for thousands of lives upon you every day. If you were a teacher, responsible for the safety of the children of this school, would you want a werewolf who'd forgotten to take his Wolfsbane – for any reason – teaching here? If you were me, would you have kept silent, knowing that the next time your co-worker had a difficult day that some of your students might not survive it?"

Harry opened his mouth to defend Remus and protest that he would have kept silent because it would never have happened again, but . . . he was an Auror now. The one thing twelve years of policing the Wizarding World had taught him was that if someone broke the law once, there was a very high probability that they would do so again in the future. Snape was looking at Remus' failing in the same rigid way Aurors were trained to view their jobs, for much the same reason. As much as he wanted to dismiss Snape's concerns, he couldn't, because if he were wrong, it would be Hogwarts students that would pay the price.

"Well, if you were me, what would you have done?" Snape demanded, as if he'd scented Harry's uncertainty, and perhaps he had.

"I don't know," he said at last. "I want to say that I'd give Remus another chance, but – "

"A child might die if you were mistaken," Snape finished with a meaningful glance.

"Yes," he reluctantly admitted. Looking at Snape, he could see that the safety of his students had really been a grave concern to him in that horrible situation.

"I won't pretend that I didn't take personal satisfaction from what I did, but it was necessary."

"That doesn't mean I have to like it," Harry said.

"No, it doesn't. And I suppose now you have the perfect opportunity to avenge Lupin and all the petty skirmishes of our past," Snape said levelly, holding his gaze.

"This isn't about revenge," Harry snapped.

He stared at Snape, trying to take his measure as an adult. All the horrible things he'd thought of his potions teacher still seemed to be true. Snape's two most prevalent personality traits were still his sarcasm and malice. All in all, Snape was quite possibly the most unappealing man he'd ever met.

But as much as it irked him to admit it, Snape was also one of the most courageous and honourable men he'd met. Snape was sitting here starving to death, discussing the safety of his students. That took an uncommon control. Harry had seen what vampirism could turn a man into in that back alley on Monday night. Snape was almost the antithesis of that raving monster. He knew that all that separated the two were their characters and the choices they had made.

His former professor had been thrust into a hopeless situation that would have claimed most men's sanity and morality long ago, and yet thirty years after Severus Snape had been infected, he still sat here sane and relatively stable. Harry couldn't help but admire the man's courage and dignity.

Snape was a peculiar blend of seemingly contradictory traits – cruelty and honour, pettiness and dignity, physical unattractiveness and moral excellence. Harry knew that when he was younger he never would have been able to see anything other than this unpleasant man's faults, but tonight he was seeing Professor Snape as the complex individual he was. It occurred to him that for the first time ever, he was seeing the Severus Snape that Albus Dumbledore had known and trusted.

As the silence stretched, Snape finally asked, "Was there anything else you wanted to know?"

"I, er, I've seen a few vampires in the line of duty. All our schoolbooks said that a person stops aging once they . . . become a vampire. Most of the vampires I met looked pretty scary when I dealt with them, but some of them were hundreds of years old and they only looked thirty. But, if you don't mind my saying so, sir, you've always looked your age. Why is that?"

"A vampire seems to stop aging if he feeds regularly on human blood – regularly, as in once a day. We actually do continue to age, but at a much slower rate. Research seems to indicate that if we feed regularly, we appear to gain perhaps a year for each century we live. I restrict my feeding to the absolute minimum to survive – once every two weeks. If I were to feed more frequently than that, the change in my appearance would be quite dramatic."

"Oh," Harry said. "The more you learn about it, the stranger vampirism seems. So little of it makes any sense."

"There is a theory that it doesn't make sense because vampirism was born of magic, not nature," Snape offered.

"Why would anybody use magic to make themselves a vampire?" Harry questioned.

"Of course, nobody would purposefully create vampirism. Even as a curse, it is impractical," Snape said.

"Then how . . .?"

Those dark eyes were regarding him as though he were fully as incompetent as Snape had always accused him of being. "I suspect that some fool with more power than brains attempted to make himself immortal and his spell went awry. If someone as powerful as you or Voldemort tried to magically alter his body chemistry to gain eternal life in the past, he might have accidentally created the condition. I've been studying its properties for thirty years now, and vampirism has far more in common with an accident of magic than a natural condition."

"Like lycanthropy," Harry said.

"Hardly," Snape corrected. "Lycantrhopy conforms to nature. It's a viral infection transmitted by the exchange of body fluids with a werewolf in wolf form. Lycanthropy has none of the scientifically inexplicable side effects of vampirism – like our lack of reflection."

"Oh." Harry had never been one for long, theoretical debates. He couldn't help but experience a pang of loss as he remembered that kind of theorizing had always been Hermione's strong suit. Returning the discussion to the practical, he asked, "So what will you do now that you can't feed in London?" He tried to keep his voice even, to make his question sound curious and not accusative. "Will you floo to Aberdeen or Liverpool?"

"The Prophet said that they're installing those vampire detectors on the floo network," Snape answered. Snape's face was perfectly controlled, but his voice betrayed his concern.

"The Prophet was trying to reassure a panicked London. Do you know how much it would cost to install those detectors on the entire network?"

"It is still safe, then?" Snape asked.

"Yes." Harry looked at the dark clad, homely man across from him. Snape's colour was so dreadful that he didn't simply look like the vampire he was, but more like a zombie or some other unwholesome creature that hunted the night.

That wasn't good. The current vampire panic might have abated some in the last corpse-free four nights, but a nervousness still permeated Britain. He'd read the Auror reports from every city. They'd received more vampire alarms in the last week than they had in the entire year before. If Snape went out looking like that to procure company and blood, he'd be reported before he left whatever establishment he flooed into.

"But?" His surprise must have shown, because Snape snapped with his usual short temper, "How you perform your duties with that open face of yours is a complete mystery. What is it you're not saying?"

"My face isn't really the problem at the moment. Have you seen what you look like?" he asked.

The grey skinned features tightened to tombstone hardness. "Not in more than thirty years. Are you trying to be facetious?"

"Oh, I forgot. I'm sorry," he swiftly apologized. That fact explained a lot about Snape's appearance.

"What is it you're trying to say?"

"Frankly?" Harry quizzed, his brain racing to find a polite way to phrase his words. At Snape's nod, he hesitantly explained, "Your skin colour is ghastly. You don't just look sick, sir. You look . . . unnatural. I'd be watching you the minute I saw you if I were on patrol, and with how frightened everyone's been these past two weeks . . . ."

"I see your point," Snape said.

"Maybe a glamour would – "

"They don't work when my system is this unstable, nor does the Polyjuice Potion," Snape said.

"Would rodent blood bring some colour back?" he hesitantly asked, cautious of offending.

Snape seemed too lost in thought to worry about the niceties of social convention. He gave a negative shake of his head. "I've consumed as much animal blood as I dare."

"You said that there were potions you could use that would help."

Those ebony eyes met his own. He could read the pain and worry in the bottomless depths of blackness as Snape reluctantly answered, "I've already passed the limit of nutritive and restorative potions my body can absorb. There comes a point when I have no choice anymore, and I simply have to feed. Unfortunately, I passed that point two days ago."

"So you've been starving for two days," he said as much to himself as to Snape.

Snape replied with a short tempered, "I've been starving for thirty years. I've been in crisis for two days."

"Have you ever gone this long without . . . " Harry searched for a word, then settled on, ". . . sustenance before?"

Snape gave a negative shake of his head. "Two weeks was always the longest I felt comfortable waiting. Come Monday, it will be three weeks since I last fed."

"That's not good," he stated the bloody obvious. "You can't go on like that indefinitely. Sooner or later, you'll – "

"I will do nothing to violate Minerva's trust in me or embarrass this school," Snape cut him off in a voice like steel. "One way or another, I will deal with it, without hunting."

The solution to Professor Snape's problem was, of course, flowing through his own veins even as they spoke; Harry was startled to realize. That it was only now that the idea occurred to him was either a testament to the former animosity of their relationship or confirmation of Snape's low estimate of his intelligence. Either way, he was startled the solution hadn't occurred to him before.

Of course, now that it had, he didn't know if he could make that kind of offer. He'd seen what hungry vampires could do to a man. He didn't want to end up like poor Ellie, drained dry. Beyond that, there was the awkward fact that he'd loathed this man for the better part of his life.

But did any of that really matter when someone was starving to death? Were his own fears and dislikes worth Snape's life? Was he that petty and weak?

There was an even larger problem to circumvent than his own reluctance, Harry realized.

Even if he were as dumb as Snape believed him, Harry was smart enough to know that his former teacher wouldn't go for the idea. At least, not straight away. It would take one hell of a fight to convince Snape to go along with reason. But he was dealing with a man who was starving to death. Sooner or later, Snape would have to give in to necessity.

His stomach lurched at the very thought of offering his blood to a vampire, even one he knew. Snape hadn't fed in nearly three weeks. Even his iron control had to have limits. There was no way either of them could guarantee that if he did offer his assistance, that Snape wouldn't lose it and drain him dry.

But was he willing to let someone else take this chance in his place? Some poor prostitute who wouldn't have a hope of fighting Snape off if he lost it? That thought was just as repulsive as the concept of feeding Snape. But as inherently disgusting as the proposition was, there was a certain poetic justice to the idea that appealed to Harry's Gryffindor spirit. Who better than the Auror who had freed the vampire to take this risk? And, all false modesty aside, who would be better equipped than him to handle the situation if things got out of hand?

He knew the depth and force of his own power. He didn't like to think about it too much, but the truth was that there wasn't a wizard in the world who could stand against him at this moment in time.

He was in perfect health. His blood was sufficient unto the task. His power was sufficient to protect him. The only thing he was lacking was the courage. There was just something utterly repugnant to the idea of feeding Snape. God knew, the man was physically repulsive enough to make him shudder at just the idea of touching him, let alone getting close enough to allow Snape to sink his teeth into any part of him.

But it was his duty. He was the one ultimately responsible for this problem, so it was his lot to solve it.

His fear was great, but his will was stronger. Somehow, he found the strength inside himself to acknowledge what was the right thing to do in this difficult situation. Personal feelings aside, he couldn't let Snape die. That was the bottom line. Everything else would have to be worked out.

Taking a deep breath, he demanded, "How are you going to deal with it if you can't risk being seen?"

"What?" Snape snapped.

"You've already admitted that you've exhausted all artificial methods. What are you going to do? Call down to the Hogsmeade brothel and have them send a whore up to the school to service you?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Snape said.

"Is there someone here at the school who has helped you in the past?" Harry gently enquired. "Minerva – "

"No, on both counts. No one else knows, and I couldn't ask that of her, not after everything she's done for me already."

"That only leaves you with one choice," he said.

"I know, Potter. There's no need to belabour it. I've prepared a room in an unused section of the dungeons. Once I enter, the door will seal shut behind me and not open for another month," Snape said.

God, Snape was planning on killing himself! He supposed it was the most honourable course to take, given the circumstances, but it went against everything Harry believed in. He also couldn't believe that Snape would think him malicious enough to take joy in suggesting that Snape off himself, no matter how much they disliked each other.

"That wasn't the option I was suggesting," Harry quickly protested. "I didn't save your hide to have you die of starvation."

"What would you suggest, then? A visit to a Muggle blood bank?" Snape sarcastically demanded.

"Would that work?" Harry asked, distracted by the idea. It wasn't a course he'd considered, but it could be managed easily enough.

"No. The blood must be fresh and at body temperature."

It was now or never. Harry took a deep breath and said as calmly as he could, "My blood's fresh and at body temperature."

"That isn't the slightest bit funny," Snape said, his gaze skewering him.

"It wasn't meant to be."

"Absolutely not," Snape denied.

"Look, this is the only option that makes sense. You can't go out to feed looking like that. I'm here, and I'm offering – "

"I will not put myself further in your debt," Snape insisted.

"So what are you going to do instead? Wall yourself up in a tomb to slowly die? What kind of logic is that?" Harry asked.

"It's not your concern," Snape said.

"It is my concern! I damned you to this fate when I interfered on Monday. I can't just let you starve yourself to death!"

"Why should you even care?" Snape challenged.

"Because I've known you my entire life!"

"You've hated me your entire life," Snape corrected.

"Oh, for fuck all's sake! I was a kid. You were my meanest teacher. I'm nearly thirty now. I'm not going to stand by and let someone I know suffer a horrible death simply because I didn't like him at school," he argued. "You don't want to die – not like that. No one would want to go that way. Professor, please. Let me help?"

"I will not be an object of pity." The glare that accompanied those words would have withered most men's courage.

Harry had faced that baleful stare his entire seven years at Hogwarts. It made him just as mad now as it had back then. "This isn't about pity, you stupid prat. I know you and I'm not going to just let you kill yourself because it offends your pride to accept some assistance. Have you even given a thought to how your death will affect the people who care about you?"

Snape's snort was the last straw.

"Listen to me, you selfish bastard. Minerva McGonagall needs you. You know better than anyone how rare Potions Masters are these days. Where's she going to find someone to replace you? And even if she did, do you think that newcomer's going to want to take on the Head of House duties for Slytherin? Whether you like it or not, you are needed here."

"So you're suggesting that I should live because I am a useful tool to others?"

"Though I can't imagine why, Minerva cares about you. She's worried sick over all this. She spent ten minutes making me promise I wouldn't hurt you before she'd let me down to see you," Harry said.

Snape took one of his hands off the chair arm and ran his fingers through the greasy fall of hair dangling over his brow. "I know that . . . she is genuinely concerned. I should not have belittled that."

"You're not thinking straight," he softly said. "You're hungry and in pain. I can help with that. If you'll let me."

Snape dropped his gaze to the flickering flames for a moment, then turned back to meet Harry 's eyes and ask, "Do you have any idea what you're offering? This isn't some heroic Gryffindor adventure you're about to embark upon. You're inviting me to drink the blood out of your veins."

Harry gulped under the weight of that stare and the reality before him. "I know. I still want to do it. I don't want you to die, not when there's something I can do to prevent it."

"I . . . want to live," Snape confessed in a quiet tone. He sounded as though he'd just admitted to a major character flaw instead of the most basic tenet of life.

Harry shivered as he realized that the fight was over. He'd won his argument, as he'd known he would. And now . . . now a vampire was about to drink his blood.

Barely controlling his panic impulse, he took a deep breath and uncertainly asked, "How – how will we do this?"

Snape appeared as nervous and uncomfortable as he felt. "If you are absolutely certain that you wish to pursue this course, it is best if we were both comfortable. The sofa would probably be a better choice than these chairs."

"All right." Harry rose to his feet and moved to the long, grey couch, sinking numbly down onto its overstuffed cushions.

Snape followed even more slowly. He settled down close to him, but not uncomfortably so.

Harry could smell his companion as he took another deep breath. Strangely enough, for all that Snape wasn't the most attractive of men, he smelt good. It was a warm, very earthy scent, sweet, but not artificially so.

"What now?" Harry asked of the visibly reluctant man beside him.

"There are two ways this can be done. I can use a knife to pierce the skin on your arm and drink from there. Or I can . . . do it the traditional way. Each has its benefits."

"The arm sounds . . . better," Harry said, beginning to shake a bit. He thought he could handle that. Stick out his arm, and allow Snape to suck the blood there. There'd be a minimum of contact.

Snape nodded and added, "I must warn you that that method is extremely painful to the donor. My saliva has properties that numb the site and make the experience pleasurable. That won't happen if we use the knife."

"Couldn't you . . . feed at my arm instead, then?" he questioned, with the sense that he was missing something.

"If the purpose of feeding at your arm is to decrease the sense of . . . intimacy, then using my teeth in any way will sabotage that."

"I don't understand," he said, watching that unhealthy face for any hint of what Snape was trying to tell him.

Snape sighed. "To put it bluntly, my saliva acts as an intensely potent aphrodisiac. If it comes in contact with your bloodstream, you will become sexually aroused. The only way to prevent that from happening is to use a knife, and have me suck the blood off your skin rather than out of the vein itself. However, that is . . . a most intensely unpleasant experience."

"Oh," Harry said, feeling like an utter moron. He felt the heat in his face and suspected that if Snape had been feeling better, he'd be blushing as well.

As it was, the potions master met his eyes and quietly offered, "If you've changed your mind about going through with this, I understand completely."

"No, we're doing this," Harry insisted, trying to get a hold of himself. "Do you have a knife?"

Snape gave a reluctant nod. "Yes."

Snape's dread was so palpable he could nearly touch it. The grey-tinged vampire beside him looked as though he expected Harry to use the knife to vivisect him rather than the other way around.

"What?" Harry questioned, reaching out to lay his hand on Snape's arm in what was quite possibly the first voluntary physical contact he'd ever had with the man. Part of him expected the contents of his stomach to come lurching up his throat, but it was just warm fabric under his hand. There was no true sense of horror to touching Snape, for all his initial revulsion at the idea. It had been so long since he'd touched anybody outside of the line of duty or a brief hug of greeting that it actually felt good.

"Potter . . . I would ask you to . . . reconsider that course."

"You can't . . . want me to, er . . . ." Words failed him. He was blushing so furiously that he was sure he'd burst a vein and then there would be no reason to argue this with Snape any further.

He heard Snape give a noisy swallow and then say with obvious difficulty, "You are giving me the gift of life, sharing your blood with me. If you were me, would you wish to reward such generosity with pain?" Snape held his gaze and continued, "I recognize that I am quite possibly the last person on the planet with whom you would be interested in having . . . intimate relations. I give you my word that . . . you needn't touch me sexually at all in our encounter. I only ask that you don't force me to hurt you. I – I've never caused pain before when I fed. I'd rather not start tonight."

Harry gulped at the heartfelt plea. "I . . . it's just that I . . .."

What was he going to do – tell Snape that he was a thirty-year-old virgin? He mightn't be a literal virgin, but he was as close as made no difference. Snape would laugh him right out of the room. His pathetic situation was already humiliating enough without broadcasting it.

Harry tried to find a way to explain, but the words wouldn't come under that intense, hungry gaze. His own emotional problems were trivial when compared to what Snape was suffering. Snape was starving to death, but he still had the integrity to be concerned about the quality of the encounter for his partner. Snape wasn't trying to cop a quick feel or do anything lascivious with him. The other man was simply asking not to be made to feel anymore of a monster than he already did because of his needs.

"I know. This is . . . embarrassing to us both." Snape's deep, cultured voice was almost hypnotic as he said, "You have demonstrated great courage and compassion in your dealings with me. Do not force me to reward that with pain. I promise you that you will enjoy what I offer you, Harry Potter, possibly more than you've enjoyed any encounter in your life."

That wouldn't be hard, considering that most of his experience had been of the solitary kind, his panicked mind acknowledged. "I . . . ."

"You have my word that I will do nothing to take advantage of you, nor will I ever use anything that passes between us tonight against you in any way. Allow me to make this bearable for us both, please?"

Hardly able to breathe in his nervousness, he gave a mute nod.

"Thank you," Snape whispered. "Have I your permission to proceed?"

He gave another nod and closed his eyes as he felt Snape move closer to him on the couch. The breath caught in his chest as Snape's hands gripped his shoulders, guiding his body around until his back was nestled in the corner of the couch. Snape shifted a bit beside him. He gave a small gasp as his legs were scooped up and laid out on the cushions. He hadn't expected that.

"It's all right. Relax," Snape said. His voice was so soothing; it was hard to ignore the suggestion.

A little worried, Harry wondered if Snape were using some of the hypnotic powers on him that vampires were rumoured to use to mesmerize their prey. If Snape were, it put his own compliance totally in question.

He opened his eyes as he felt Snape settle against his flank. He searched that strong-boned, unhealthy face, looking for any trace of manipulation, but for the first time in memory, Snape's expression was unguarded. Snape seemed . . . concerned, about him as he stared down at him.

"Are you comfortable?" Snape questioned.

"As comfortable as a man can be with a vampire leaning over him," Harry joked.

To his surprise, Snape's thin, bloodless lips curled up in a small smile that was entirely free of malice.

"You're a brave man, Harry Potter." Snape was paused over him, their faces lined up as though for a kiss. Snape appeared to be nearly as unnerved as he was.

Somehow, that knowledge helped. The fact that this wasn't easy for Snape to do eased his nerves enough for him to say, "You used to say that the only difference between bravery and stupidity was the house one was sorted into."

Snape gave a breathy snort. His face was still lined with tension and pain, but something like humour sparked in his obsidian bright eyes. "No one has ever joked with me like this before. It . . . helps ease the . . . stress of it."

The stress of it? Startled, Harry realized that this had to be hard for Snape, maybe more difficult than it would be for most other men. Staring into Snape's eyes, he could almost see what his life had been like, see how much he hated this. And why wouldn't he? Snape was an intensely private man who didn't like to be touched, yet to survive he had to be intimate with a parade of prostitutes who probably never even knew his name.

"Go on. It's okay," Harry said, his compassion overwhelming even his fear. His mouth had run completely dry and his heart was hammering like he was staring down Lord Voldemort again, but he meant the words. He'd offered this of his own free will. It wasn't right of him to make it harder on Snape than it had to be, not when this man whom he'd hated for so many years was being so gracious and considerate towards him.

Harry had seen the tremors that had been running through Snape's rail-thin form since the time he'd entered the room, seen how Snape had been clutching those chair arms all night. He couldn't even conceive how much pain Snape must be in after not having fed for three weeks. His blood must have been tempting the vampire in Snape since he'd entered the room, but his former teacher had maintained his controls so tightly that Harry would never have suspected that his companion was under duress.

He watched Snape's hand reach for his jaw. Snape's fingers were firm, but gentle as they touched him. Those fingers were cooler than most people's, but not uncomfortably or unnaturally so.

His perspective changed as Snape tilted his chin up as far as it would go and carefully manoeuvred him until his head was braced on the couch arm with his throat completely arched and exposed.

Harry felt Snape move closer again. Warm breath tickled his neck, causing him to shudder. He was intensely conscious of Snape's greater height as the other man leaned against him to get closer to his exposed throat. He was pinned into the couch, completely vulnerable. If Snape chose to rip his throat out as that monster in Knockturn Alley had with that poor whore on Monday night, there wouldn't be a thing he could do about it. He'd be dead before he even knew what was happening.

Snape's strangely pleasing scent was all around him, heavy in the air. Harry had to wonder if there were some pheromone action going on here, too.

His heart was thundering so loud that it had to be deafening the vampire as well as him. The words 'no' and 'stop' were clogged in his throat, just waiting for him to get enough spit to shout them. He couldn't do this. He'd been wrong. He didn't have the courage. This was . . . .

Something wet and warm touched him neck, pricking his flesh up in goose bumps. Harry shivered as he realized that Snape was licking the skin on top of his jugular vein.

Snape was licking him. His mind gave a resounding 'yuck', but his body had a different response to the gentle action. He'd expected fangs – had he even seen Snape's fangs yet, he distractedly wondered – to come ripping through his skin. He hadn't anticipated anything this . . . sensual.

His touch-starved body had no defence against it.

Stars, it felt marvellous, not at all horrible as he'd expected. But then, he'd never imagined Severus Snape licking him. It should have been repulsive, but . . . the slick ministrations were glorious. Heat unfurled in his belly as Snape lapped at that same spot over and over, like a cat cleaning her kitten.

Of its own volition, his hand rose to settle in Snape's greasy hair. Harry let his fingers sort through the sticky strands they were resting against. Snape's hair really was quite . . . dirty. It was strange that the man would smell so clean and wonderful, if his hair was this neglected. The miniscule part of his brain that was still functioning suggested that perhaps Snape didn't bathe on purpose. Maybe the pheromones, which had to be the reason why every breath made Harry feel hotter, were cumulative. He was completely ignorant of such things, but perhaps the stronger a vampire's natural body scent was, the easier it was for him to seduce his prey.

Harry felt Snape's body tense on top of him at his touch. Thinking that Snape was probably worried that he'd changed his mind and was about to push him off, Harry gently whispered, "Sssh. It's all right. It feels . . . good. Real good."

Snape gave a physical start at that, but he continued licking his throat, which was really all Harry cared about at this point. An energizing warmth seemed to be sinking through his skin, spiking his respiration and heartbeat. Although he had nothing to judge it against, his body's reaction seemed more extreme than it should be to simple licking. His senses were starting to swirl as a wonderful sense of energized lethargy swept through him. It was a curious, incongruous blend of opposites. Harry felt nearly unable to move with intoxication, but alive, so fucking alive.

Abruptly, he began to understand how Snape could have been convinced to drink a stranger's blood all those years ago. Snape hadn't been some deviant, wanton slut. He'd only been human. Delight this sublime wasn't meant for mortal man.

He remembered Snape telling him how his saliva acted as an aphrodisiac and wondered if Snape were licking him to administer it. It probably should have bothered him that this pleasure was artificially stimulated, that it was all just preparation to make Snape's feeding easier, but he couldn't really muster the concern, not against something that felt this wonderful.

The tingling delight at his throat spread, moving out and downwards. Although Snape had warned him in his discreet way that it would happen, Harry still felt extremely self-conscious when his cock hardened. He tried to will it away, but with the sensations continually flooding his system, his inconvenient erection only grew bigger.

Snape's right hand left his shoulder. While the licking at his throat continued, Snape's hand trailed down his jumper. Harry gave a choked back cry as those passing fingers grazed over his erect left nipple. Even through the heavy black wool of his jumper, the contact was electrifying.

But Snape's hand didn't linger there. It continued downwards, ghosting over his muscular chest and his flat jeans-covered stomach, pausing only when it reached the throbbing flesh that was trying to poke its way out through his strangling zipper. He whimpered as the heat of Snape's palm settled over that needy bulge and squeezed him through the thick denim.

Harry was still rocking under the dizzying shockwaves of that squeeze when he felt something sharp and painful at his neck. The pain was dazzling for a moment, fully as intense as the pleasure, but then as Snape's fangs sank through his flash and found what they were looking for, the discomfort receded.

In its wake came a blinding burst of delight that exploded through his entire system. It was like those waves he'd felt when Snape was licking him, but far more intense. Every cell Harry had seemed to blaze to life at the same instant.

Under his own harsh breathing, he became aware of soft sucking sounds and realized that Snape was feeding. But the area seemed almost anaesthetized now. There was no pain at all, no sensation of his blood being forcibly pulled from his vein – nothing but that brilliant delight spiralling through him.

How long Snape sucked his blood, Harry had no idea. There was no sense of time passing. He was suspended in this ecstasy as though he'd been frozen in time. He never came, but every second felt like a devastating orgasm. He couldn't think. He couldn't breathe. All he could do was feel. Feel and whimper.

Under the pounding, deafening beat of his heart, he could hear the pleading cries he was making. He would have done anything in that moment to sustain this feeling. If Snape had opened a vein and pressed it to his mouth, he'd have drunk it down just like the young Slytherin had done thirty years ago.

But Snape didn't do anything unscrupulous. The man simply fed for what felt like an eternity.

Harry was so caught up in the erotic swirl of feelings that he hardly noticed when those razor sharp fangs were extracted from his vein. He felt Snape's tongue lap at his neck for a while again, and then it stopped.

Harry opened his eyes to see a very transformed Snape staring down at him. Gone was that deathly grey tinge. Snape's cheeks were flushed and glowing with health. His eyes weren't hollow anymore, but bright and pleasure sated. Even Snape's hair seemed more lustrous.

Uncertainty touched Snape's expression as their gazes locked.

Harry's body was still on fire, lost in the sensual daze Snape's feeding had caused. His erection was still a living thing, throbbing in desperation now that whatever had kept his pleasure in that suspended state had ceased to operate.

A small part of his mind recognized that it was over. Snape had fed. He'd fulfilled his function here. Nothing else would pass between them. But . . . but he'd die if he didn't come . . . .

Snape appeared to work through whatever had made him pause. The doubt disappeared from his face, an unnatural tenderness replacing it.

Harry watched Snape's yellow-tinged fingers scramble to the zipper of his blue jeans. The metallic squeal it gave as Snape carefully lowered it over the bulging erection sounded very loud.

Snape peeled his jeans down his hips, taking his Y fronts with them. Harry gasped at the sudden sense of freedom as the choking trousers were removed.

When his jeans and underwear were pooled down at his knees, Snape looked back up at him.

It almost seemed as though Snape were waiting to be told to stop, but that word no longer existed in Harry's vocabulary.

Snape appeared to come to that same realization. And then Snape's right hand reached out to collect Harry 's needy erection.

He couldn't help but whimper at the feel of the first hand other than his own touching his bare shaft. Then Snape's head with its shimmering veil of black silk was lowering over his groin, and Harry 's world spun for the second time that night.

Vampires were really good at sucking. The insane thought played through what was left of his melted brain as Snape's mouth began to suck him. There was no hesitation on Snape's part, no awkwardness. Snape worked his cock like a maestro at this art, proving that his mastery of skills far exceeded potion making.

For his part, he could only moan as the pleasure barraged his already overwhelmed senses. It couldn't have been all that pleasant for Snape. Harry was so strung out, he barely lasted more than two sucks before he was flooding Snape's mouth with come.

But Snape didn't seem put out by his lack of staying power. Snape stayed with him and drank him down, sucking him until the last spurts had passed and Harry was limp under that skilful tongue.

The last conscious awareness he had was of Snape finally lifting his head up from his groin. Blackness closed in around him as mercilessly as the pleasure had and he tumbled down into a sleep that he knew might be eternal.

*****

Harry's head was pounding as though a dozen drunken mountain trolls were having a donnybrook inside his skull. His stomach was so queasy that simply opening his eyes was enough to make it threaten to disgorge its contents.

He stared up at the tasteful green velvet canopy way over his head, with no idea as to where he was or how he'd gotten there. All he knew was that his head was about to explode, if his stomach didn't beat it to it.

He didn't usually drink to excess. With his power, he couldn't afford to lose control like that. Still, he felt hung over or . . . sick. He supposed that he could be in hospital, but during the course of his duties, he'd spent a lot of time in St. Mungo's over the last twelve years and he knew they didn't have mahogany four-posters with green velvet drapes.

So where . . . ? His pain-wracked mind finally woke up. He remembered last night. He'd come to speak to Professor Snape and . . . he'd ended up . . . .

Harry felt his cheeks grow hot as he recalled precisely what he'd ended up doing with Snape last night.

God, he'd fed his blood to a vampire and then . . . .

He wasn't sure whether he was more upset with the feeding the vampire part or the having sex with Professor Snape part of the proceedings. Both were more than adequate cause for concern.

His actions of the previous night established, it only followed that this was Professor Snape's bed he was sleeping in. And it must be Professor Snape's nightshirt he was wearing, for he certainly didn't own one.

A slight noise like shifting fabric to his left drew his attention. His deductions were confirmed by the sight of the tall, black clad figure sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair beside the bed.

Those dark eyes were fixed on him, but they were neither hollow nor filled with pain this morning. Though something like nervousness was playing across Snape's harsh boned features, he no longer appeared desperate. On the contrary, as Harry took in the changes that had taken place since last night, he thought that he had never seen Severus Snape look quite so good. His skin had a healthy glow to it; his hair seemed clean and combed. The potions master would never be a handsome or attractive man, but at the moment he looked sleek and strangely sexy.

"Good morning," Snape greeted in a quietly subdued tone. He was watching him as though he anticipated some type of explosion or attack. "How do you feel?"

"Rough," Harry admitted. "You . . . look better."

"And so I am, thanks to your assistance."

Blushing furiously, he looked away from that too-perceptive stare. What was he supposed to say? Do? He'd never even had a normal morning after, let alone one this bizarre.

So while he tried to frantically compose his thoughts, he surveyed the room he found himself in. Like the sitting room, the décor was understated and elegant. A smaller hearth took up the wall opposite the bed. There was a fire dancing cheerfully in it, warming the room.

The bedside tables, dresser, and wardrobe matched the dark mahogany wood of the bed, as did the shelves that lined the walls of this room. It seemed wherever Snape was, books accumulated.

There was a pile of what seemed to be Dark Arts books piled on the nightstand on the empty side of the bed, were their titles anything to go by. A half burnt candle stood beside the decrepit, leather bound tomes. The nightstand to Harry 's left just had a new candle on it in a matching pewter stand, so he deduced that the other side of the bed was where Snape normally slept. He couldn't help but wonder if Snape had slept there beside him last night after he'd passed out.

Which brought his brain back to what he'd done last night.

"Potter?"

He turned back at the sound of his name and winced at the pain the movement caused.

"Please drink this." Snape held out a small brown bottle. "It's a restorative potion. It should help with your headache and upset stomach."

Their hands brushed as he reached out to accept the bottle. Harry shuddered at the contact. His breathing gave a hitch and his heart seemed to pound harder. Perhaps it was the intimacy of being here in Snape's bed with what had passed between them last night still so vivid in his flesh and mind. Or maybe he was just going to be sick.

He uncorked the bottle and drank the bitter contents down. It was only as Snape wordlessly handed him a glass of pumpkin juice that he realized how worried the other man seemed.

"What's wrong?" he asked as he took a sip of the too-sweet juice.

"Strange as it may seem, this is the first time anyone has ever remembered what transpired when I fed. I . . . couldn't be certain that you wouldn't have second thoughts when you awoke."

That lush, ironic voice went through him the way the sensations of Snape's tongue touching him had.

Though Snape didn't specifically ask, he heard the question. "No second thoughts."

Their gazes locked again.

Harry held that intense stare as long as he dared, then gulped and looked away again. Startled, he realized that his head felt better. "Whatever you gave me worked great. I feel better already."

There was a pause, and then Snape gave a soft, "Good. I'm going to give you a potion to help replenish your blood. I'd like you to take it in the morning and night for the next three days."

"Thanks," he said, feeling awkward and stupid. He didn't know how he was supposed to look at Snape now. He didn't know what he was supposed to say. He'd had sex with this man last night, and, though it was wrong to dwell on such things, every time he let his gaze linger on Snape, his body remembered how good Snape had made him feel.

"I . . . guess I should be going," he said.

"Your clothing is on the dresser top. I took the liberty of using a cleansing charm on them. I shrank the bottle of restorative potion and put it in the pocket of your trousers, along with an instruction sheet for its use," Snape told him.

"Thanks," Harry said. Rising to his feet, he swayed a little before his equilibrium evened out. Feeling like an idiot, he asked, "Er, where's the loo?"

"That door over there," Snape said. There were two doors to the right of the bed, across from the hearth. Snape was gesturing towards the one that was open with the wall sconces lit within.

Harry fetched his neatly folded clothing from the dresser top, feeling Snape's gaze on his bare legs as he hurried to the bathroom.

The claw foot tub in the small room took up most of the available space. There was a sink with a mirror over it and a toilet to the side. It was the first mirror he'd seen in Snape's quarters, which was hardly surprising, considering that Snape's lack of a reflection must have been a constant reminder of his condition.

He eyed the tub longingly, but decided that speed was more important this morning. He used the facilities, washed up, and dressed as quickly as possible.

He paused to look in the mirror before leaving the bath. Raising his chin, he searched the left side of his neck, but could see no trace of where Snape had fed last night. He realized that Snape must have healed the marks. It only made sense. Snape couldn't really afford to leave a trail of prostitutes with suspicious bite marks on their necks and missing memories. It only stood to reason that the professor would be accustomed to covering his tracks.

Once he was sure there was no physical sign of what they'd done, he stared long and hard at his face in the mirror. He thought he should look different. He'd had sex last night, real sex, not just teenaged fumbling. Surely, the change in status should show? But he looked exactly the same. The messy, shaggy black hair was the same as it had been yesterday. His eyes were still the same shade of green as a mallard's neck. He still had his dad's upturned nose and slightly cleft chin. He was still just Harry.

He supposed that was a blessing in itself. Considering who, or rather what, the person he'd had sex with last night was, he could have woken up several days from now with his life forever ruined, just as Snape had when young. Or he mightn't have woken up at all.

He left the nightshirt folded on the laundry hamper in the bath – it struck him as strange that a vampire would have such a mundane thing as a laundry hamper – and then returned to the bedroom.

Snape was still sitting in that straight-backed chair beside the bed. His long form still looked sleek and sensual to Harry. He realized that he might never be able to look at Severus Snape the same again after what they'd done last night.

"Well, I'm off now," he said awkwardly, still having no clue as to what he should say. Should he thank Snape? Make some reference to what they'd done?

No, Snape hadn't mentioned the sex at all. He'd best just carry on as though it had never occurred.

Snape rose to his feet and Harry was once again reminded how incredibly tall the man was. Snape walked over to join him in the open space between the bed and the door that he assumed led back to the sitting room. "The hearth in my sitting room is on the floo network. You can leave that way if you'd like."

"All right. Take care, then." Christ, he sounded like an utter moron, Harry thought as he turned to flee for the floo.

"Potter!"

He paused and turned back into the room.

Snape took a nervous looking, deep breath and then said, "I know I haven't said it as such, but . . . thank you for what you did last night."

The heat in his face told him that he was probably blushing bright enough to light the entire Forbidden Forest. "Er, you're welcome."

Another brilliant riposte. He certainly wasn't going to impress this articulate man with his witty comebacks. The question as to why he even cared about impressing Severus Snape was probably best not examined too closely.

"May I make a personal observation?" Snape asked in an uncharacteristically uncertain tone.

Harry braced himself, wondering what Snape wanted to say. He felt his utter inexperience must have been blatantly obvious to the older man. It would be just like Snape to let him know how embarrassing a showing he'd made for himself last night. But, he was no coward. Whatever Snape had to say, he'd hear him out. So, he gave a mute nod and tensed all over, prepared to be torn to ribbons with typical Snape sadistic flair.

"You have a rare generosity of spirit. If it wouldn't be impertinent, I'd like to say that your lover is a very lucky man. Take care of yourself, Harry Potter."

Before he'd even interpreted Snape's words, the potions master turned on his heel and disappeared through the door beside the bathroom with a sweeping billow of his robes.

Flabbergasted, Harry simply stood there staring at the closing door. He had to hand it to Snape, the man still had a gift for throwing him completely off balance.

When it became clear that Snape wasn't returning any time soon, he forced himself to move to the sitting room and floo home.

*****

Chapter Three

Harry sat at his desk in the Ministry, staring at the innocuous white envelope the eagle owl had just dropped off.

It was strange how you didn't forget some things. He would have recognized Severus Snape's flowing script anywhere, even though it had been twelve years since he'd seen that handwriting commenting on his homework and tests. This might also have been the first time he'd seen it in anything other than red ink, he realized, nor was there any scathing criticism. Just his name, Harry Potter, on the creamy white envelope.

His stomach fluttered as he regarded the envelope. That was happening on a regular basis every time he thought of Snape or remembered what they'd done together two weeks ago. The number of times he caught himself thinking about his former teacher a day was utterly embarrassing, which was why he'd forced himself to write to Snape this morning. This had to end, one way or the other. He couldn't go on like this, day dreaming like an infatuated sixth year.

Presumably, the envelope on his desk was a reply to his request to see Snape tonight.

It had taken him two weeks to get up the nerve to contact Snape. From the way he was feeling, it might take him another two to open the damn response.

Losing patience with himself, he tore open the envelope. A single sheet of white paper fluttered to his desk.

Harry saw the same neat black handwriting. His heart gave a nervous twist when he noticed how brief the reply was. Barely two lines. He half-expected something like, "Potter, you're an imbecile. Surely, you jest?"

When he finally read the words, he nearly passed out from the relief of it. It was Snape's usual terse style, minus the malice. All the note said was "Floo directly to my quarters, eight thirty, after detentions. I've added you to the security wards. S.S."

Well, his own letter hadn't been much more than a three line, nervous request for another audience. At least Snape's reply lacked his own painful self-consciousness.

The part about Snape adding his name to the security wards was encouraging. It seemed to indicate that Snape trusted him, was maybe even suggesting that Snape expected him to have need of the floo more than once. Unless, of course, Snape simply meant that he'd keyed his name into the wards for the day.

Gods, this was hopeless, he thought, running his hand through his unruly hair.

His palms were sweating already at the thought of tonight. He had no clue how to approach this.

All he knew was that he wanted more. It mightn't have been what anyone would call a typical sexual experience, but feeding Snape was the first thing that had made him feel alive or feel anything at all, to be honest, in what felt like forever. He didn't want to go back to living totally alone, to never touching anyone.

He'd spent two weeks trying to convince himself that it didn't have to be Snape he . . . sought these things with. He could go out to a club, meet someone, and try to have the kind of normal life everyone else seemed to have.

Only, he was still . . . broken inside. It was hard for him to even consider getting involved with anyone, but that one taste of passion that Snape had given him was equally impossible to forget. He needed . . . something, something more than work, something to look forward to.

Disgusted, Harry realized that he was seeking what every bachelor throughout history had sought – sex without any commitment or emotional involvement. In the back of his mind, he could hear Hermione's response to that. He knew how shallow what he wanted was. But she wasn't here anymore. None of them were. It was just him, trying to stay sane.

Right now sanity meant emotional distance. Everyone he'd let deep into his heart had died – Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Albus, Remus . . . even poor Neville. And it didn't stop there. There was Jared, who'd taught him the ropes as an Auror. Five months into their partnership, when handsome blond Jared's easy cheer and friendship had made him think that maybe there was hope for him, Jared had taken a Killing Curse meant for the Boy Who Lived. Every bloody time he tried to reach out to someone, they ended up dead. Harry just couldn't lose anyone else.

He'd considered the club scene, doing one night stands like Sam and the other blokes at the Ministry; but his notoriety made it difficult for him to just blend into the crowd. He knew what happened whenever he went out in public. He didn't want his private life, pathetic as that might be, blazoned across the Prophet's headlines every day.

There was always the Muggle world, of course. There was no reason why he couldn't go to one of the London clubs and meet someone who'd never heard of the bloody Boy Who Lived. He could have uncomplicated sex with a stranger and never see that person again. Only . . . .

He'd spent so many years having to be on guard against attack that he still found it impossible to relax with people he didn't know. But it was more than that, something wasn't right inside him. The few times he'd forced himself to try the Muggle clubs over the years, the moment another man approached him, he froze up inside and found himself stumbling over his feet to escape.

So, he was left in the unenviable position of wanting anonymous sex, but being too wary of strangers to engage in it.

It made for a lonely, empty existence. He'd all but resigned himself to going it alone . . . and then Severus Snape had shown up in his life and had thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the works. The man was a vampire, a former Death Eater, and quite possibly the most unpleasant person he'd had the misfortune to know. Snape was also the only person who'd made him feel anything in more than twelve years.

He'd been picking at himself, trying to figure out exactly what it was Snape had made him feel. Sheer, unadulterated ecstasy was the thought that came instantly to mind. No matter how unattractive Snape might be, the things the man had done to his body were impossible to forget.

Of course, any sex was likely to be overwhelming after all this time, Harry realized. Still, sex with Snape had been utterly incredible. Perhaps the most startling aspect of it all was the fact that he wasn't scared off by Snape. Which really made him question his intellect. Snape was a vampire, a former Death Eater, and the most sarcastic, malicious bastard he'd ever met. Anyone with even vestigial self-preservation instincts would have avoided Snape like the plague. Yet, Harry wasn't afraid of him and, far more importantly, he trusted him.

It was with those two acknowledgements that his current hare-brained plan had formed.

The more he'd thought about it these last two weeks, the more he'd realized that Snape was the perfect candidate to fill his need for a lover who was both discreet and willing to give him the emotional distance he needed. If he needed proof of Snape's discretion, all he had to do was think about how the man had kept his vampirism a secret for three decades; it didn't get more discreet than that. As for emotional distance . . . the idea of Snape wanting emotional involvement with James Potter's son was too ludicrous for words.

They didn't even like each other. There was no way they would ever get involved, no way Snape could ever get close enough to him for it to hurt if Snape were killed. There was also the added benefit that Snape was a vampire, and, therefore, near impossible to kill by normal means.

It was a perfect set up. Snape had as little interest in romancing him as he did befriending his cantankerous former teacher.

But Snape needed to feed. Every two weeks. And Harry needed to feel alive.

Sex for blood. It seemed like a fair enough exchange. Snape would feed and he'd get laid. Come morning, they'd both go back to their own separate lives with no chance of unwanted emotional complications. They couldn't ask for a more perfect arrangement.

Snape was a logical man. Harry hoped that they'd be able to come to a mutually satisfying arrangement.

Well, he wouldn't know until tonight. Taking a deep breath, he carefully folded the letter and replaced it in its envelope. Once it was secure in his robe pocket, he hit the streets.

*****

There was a lot of stress to dating, if you could even call what he was doing tonight 'dating', Harry thought as he stood in front of his bedroom mirror, trying to decide if he should wear the slightly conservative royal blue jumper with a white shirt beneath it and his comfortable blue jeans, or go with the more casual forest green Henley that made his eyes glow and the black trousers that were tight in all the right places.

Deciding he needed all the help he could get, he went with the Henley and tight trousers.

The irony of the situation did not escape him. He'd spent the last hour trying to look his best for a man who didn't even bother to wash his hair.

Pulling on his black leather jacket, Harry paused in front of the mirror just long enough to determine that he looked good, but not long enough for the wreck of his hair to bother him. He'd washed and combed it, and the damn thing still looked like an untrimmed azalea bush.

Still, aside from the hair, he didn't look too bad. He wasn't nearly as tall as Snape, but he'd grown some since school. He wasn't a midget anymore. His shoulders and chest had filled out. He knew he was well muscled and in damn fine shape.

He just didn't know if any of it would appeal to Snape. He understood that desperation had motivated their last encounter. If Snape weren't under duress, he might not go for the idea. Harry also understood how much Snape had hated his dad. Their enmity at school had been formed mostly by Snape's inability to separate him from the father he so resembled, and he still looked a lot like the pictures of his dad. And even if he weren't the spitting image of Snape's childhood enemy, it wasn't like he and Snape had the best of relationships to start with. There was every possibility he'd be laughed right out of the room.

But, at least he'd look his best when Snape tossed him out on his ear.

Realizing that he'd be late if he delayed any longer, Harry left the bedroom and crossed his messy sitting room to the hearth. He took a handful of shimmering floo powder, threw it into his fire, and clearly enunciated, "Severus Snape's quarters, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

When the fire flared green, he stepped into it. The twisting, dark, fun house ride that was floo travel churned his stomach as much as usual. Although he stumbled out of the floo into Snape's sitting room, he managed to keep his feet.

Harry shook off the inevitable soot and stared around the comfortable room he recalled from his last visit.

Snape was sitting a few feet away from the hearth in the same grey velvet wingback chair he'd been in last time. He was relieved to see that Snape's complexion was a hell of a lot more normal than it had been on his last visit. The potions master still had that sallow cast that he remembered from his schooldays, but the unwholesome grey tinge was totally absent.

Harry would never have noticed it before, because it happened so fast he barely caught it and he simply didn't think along those lines with someone like Snape, but those dark eyes made a furtive sweep over his body as he removed his black leather jacket, almost like Snape couldn't help himself from looking.

It made him feel less nervous, like maybe he had a chance.

"Good evening," Snape greeted in that deep, cultured voice, only a heartbeat or two later than he should have.

Encouraged by the interest Snape hadn't quite been able to hide, Harry grinned and said, "That's what the vampires always say in Muggle cinema."

"Is it?" Snape asked.

"Yeah, only they usually have horrible Russian accents."

"Do they? How strange," Snape said.

"Most of the legends are based on the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula. His vampire was from Transylvania."

"I've read it." Snape's long nose wrinkled in distaste. "Utter rubbish."

"You have?" he tried not to sound too stunned, but he simply couldn't picture Snape reading a horror novel. All the Muggle books on the shelves that he could see were either classics or scientific texts.

"I read everything concerning my . . . condition. Sometimes the inspiration for the solution to a problem can be found in the most unlikely of places."

"You're looking for a solution?" He felt like an idiot once the words were out, and quickly said, "Sorry. That was a stupid question. Who wouldn't be looking for a cure?"

"Many of my kind actually grow to enjoy their situation," Snape answered without his usual snark and then asked, "Would you like a Fire Whisky?"

"Yes, please."

He watched Snape cross to the other side of the room where the table with the liquor bottles was. Startled, he noticed the grace with which Snape moved. He stared at the long, thin line of Snape's straight back. He couldn't help but wonder what Snape's body looked like under all those clothes.

"Are you waiting for an invitation to take a seat?" Snape asked, with his back still to him as he poured his drink. "If so, please do me the honour of sitting. I'd also appreciate it if you'd stop staring at me."

"Er. Sorry," Harry said, taking the other armchair. His spirits rallying, he commented with a smile, "That was actually polite. You know, I don't believe we've ever been together alone for this long without you insulting me."

Snape brought his drink over to him.

Harry looked up to acknowledge the gesture, and was startled by the open amusement on that strong-boned face. Snape's mouth wasn't smiling, but his dark eyes seemed to be.

"You've only been here for less than three minutes."

"Well, it usually takes less than thirty seconds to get us snarling at each other," Harry said.

"I wouldn't be too concerned," Snape said, taking a seat in the other chair. He had a mug of steaming, milky looking tea beside him as he'd had two weeks ago, only tonight he actually took a sip of it. "I'm sure you'll say something worthy of insult in the next few minutes."

Harry couldn't hold back a laugh at that. When he calmed, he noted, "You look much healthier than you did the last time I saw you."

"I'm not in crisis yet," Snape said.

"It's been two weeks since . . . or have you . . . ?"

"No, I haven't," Snape answered, the first traces of ill temper entering his tone.

In the heavy silence that followed, Harry tried to find a way to broach his offer. Snape's expression was so unapproachable that he couldn't help but have second thoughts about the whole idea.

Snape shattered the awkward quiet by commenting in a tone that seemed both conciliatory and confused, "I must admit that I was surprised to receive your owl this morning. Did you have additional questions?"

It was a natural enough assumption for Snape to make.

"No, I mean, yes . . . ." As those maliciously amused eyes settled upon him, Harry cursed, "Damn."

"As articulate and clear minded as ever, I see," Snape said. "So is it yes or no? More questions, or is the state of your social life so pathetic that this is your idea of a night out on the town?"

The thing that made sarcasm such a brutal weapon was the fact that there was often a lot of truth in it. Snape's words stung, but there was no way on earth he was going to admit to the latter accusation. Recognizing that this was the best opportunity he was likely to get tonight, he took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, "Actually, there was something I wanted to ask you."

"Yes? Well, out with it, man. Whatever it is, the topic can't be any more personal than the things you asked me last time."

"This is hard, damn it," Harry snapped, hating the flush he could feel spreading through his cheeks.

"Hard?" Snape's body seemed to tense in the chair across from him. Confused, Harry watched his companion carefully lower his tea mug to the nearby end table. Then Snape asked in a tight tone, "Are you here in your official capacity?"

"What?" he questioned, totally confused.

"Have you reconsidered the wisdom of allowing a dark creature such as myself – "

"No," he cut Snape off. "I'm sorry. I'm not here to arrest you. I'm really cocking this up, aren't I?"

He saw Snape's narrow chest rise and fall as he vented a deep breath. "I'm afraid I don't understand. 'Cocking' what up?"

Feeling an utter fool, he met Snape's confused gaze and softly explained, "I came to ask if you would . . . well, if you'd like to do what we did last time. If you'd care to feed . . . with me . . .I mean, on me again."

All emotion closed down in Snape's face. "That isn't even remotely funny."

"It wasn't a joke," Harry insisted. He tried not to squirm as those suspicious eyes scoured his face.

"You can't be seriously suggesting that you want to . . . ."

"Yes, I am," he interrupted again.

That intense gaze seemed to dig straight down to his soul. He was able to recognize the instant Snape believed him from the softening of the hard lines in that harsh featured face. After a stunned moment, Snape asked, "Why? Why would a young, attractive man such as yourself want to . . . ?"

Not wanting to force Snape to speak ill of himself, he explained, "I thought that if we did this on a regular basis, that it might be the solution to both our problems."

"What are you talking about – both our problems? What problem of yours could feeding a vampire possibly solve? Unless your hyperactive Gryffindor sense of honour is forcing you to take responsibility for freeing me? If that is the case, I assure you, such sacrifice is unnecessary."

"I know I don't have to. This isn't about honour or guilt," Harry quickly assured.

"Then what is it about?"

Harry took a gulp of the fire whiskey and answered, "I'm not seeing anyone right now and – "

It was the truth, if misleading.

"And you thought you'd offer your blood to a vampire to fill the void?" Snape said in his most scathing sneer.

Though he hated how difficult the man was being, he supposed the entire idea did seem unlikely from Snape's perspective. Hell, every time Harry considered the idea with a clear mind himself, his common sense would shriek in despair of his sanity.

"Look, I know it sounds crazy, but . . . I really enjoyed . . ." his cheeks were flaming again, but there was nothing for it, ". . . what you did to me last time."

"Potter, there are much easier ways to get laid than this," Snape said. If he didn't know better, he'd say that his former teacher was actually shaken by his offer.

To his horror, Harry realized that he was being turned down. By a vampire starving for blood. How pathetic was that?

Harry's desperation forced him to argue, "Maybe for you there is, but I can't use a public restroom without it ending up in the Daily Prophet's headlines. It just seemed that this would make sense for both of us. You'd get to feed on a regular basis without risk of exposure, and I'd get . . . to enjoy myself with someone who can keep a secret."

"You're serious," Snape said.

It was the first time he didn't have to dig to interpret any emotion other than anger that Snape was feeling. The older wizard's astonishment was so pronounced he could almost touch it.

"Entirely," he softly answered, feeling too exposed. "Are you . . . interested?"

It seemed to take Snape a while to gather his thoughts. "How could I fail to be interested in a . . . companion who offers his blood voluntarily, one whose memory I will not have to obliviate afterwards? I'm more than interested; I agree."

Now it was Harry 's turn to be taken aback. "I thought you'd be more . . . cautious, that you'd make me . . . I don't know, spell out what I'd want in exchange before you'd agree to anything."

"You're offering me a life free of humiliation and risk – what could you ask that wouldn't be worth it? Whatever you want of me, I will do it."

His throat tightened up so bad he could hardly breathe around the obstruction. As with so much of his life, Harry really hadn't thought this plan all the way through. Now that he'd voiced his proposal, he recognized how cold, if not downright cruel it was. Snape was trapped in an impossible situation, which he handled in the most honourable manner he could. The man needed blood to survive, and here he was forcing an exchange of sex for it. What kind of person did that make him, that he'd capitalize on someone's misfortune like this? If there were a monster in the room, it wasn't Snape.

"I . . . didn't think this through. This isn't right of me. You shouldn't have to – "

"To what?" Snape interrupted him. "To give pleasure to a beautiful young man who had the courage and compassion to help me in my darkest hour? You're not forcing me to do anything here, Potter. If I want, I could say no and satisfy my needs elsewhere. You made an offer. I accepted. There's nothing wrong in that."

To his further irritation, Harry found himself totally distracted by the compliment Snape had paid him. Barely able to believe it, he asked in an uncertain voice, "You think I'm beautiful?"

Irritation pursed Snape's thin lips. Snape's reply made him realize that it wasn't him that Snape was annoyed with for a change. "I meant no insult."

The tense words made no sense to him. "Insult? What are you talking about?"

"I don't require a mirror to know that it is only the company I've kept these past three decades that welcomes the attentions of . . . someone such a I, and, then, only when I'm paying," Snape offered in a subdued manner.

Once again, Snape's words took a stranglehold on him. Harry looked at this man, whom he and the rest of the world deemed ugly, and felt his heart just about break with sadness. What must it be like to be considered so . . . loathsome? And, really, was Snape that ugly? Yes, he had a big nose. His teeth and skin were a bit yellow, but when he wasn't snarling, he wasn't so bad to look at. He decided that it was Snape's expression and malice more than anything that made him so unattractive.

"Professor Snape, I asked you to sleep with me. You've got a right to say that kind of thing if you want to. And just for the record, it's not your looks that put most people off, it's your attitude. When you're not . . . sneering, you're not so bad."

"High praise, indeed," Snape said.

Harry was relieved to hear the sarcastic lilt back in the man's voice. He really preferred it to that subdued self-honesty.

"And if you're going to 'sleep with me' as you so elegantly phrased it, you might want to call me something other than Professor Snape."

Once again, Harry found himself laughing. "What would you suggest?"

"My name, perhaps?"

"You are a sarcastic bastard, Severus," he tried the name out, "You know that, don't you?"

"No, I didn't, but thank you for alerting me to that fact."

Still chuckling, Harry shook his head and took another sip of his drink.

Glancing over, he found Snape watching him with an unreadable expression on his face. When their gazes touched, Snape's Adam's apple seemed to bob, and then he asked, "What did you have in mind?"

Now that they'd made the decision to go forward, Snape seemed almost uncertain.

"I think we need to be a little closer than six feet away from each other," Harry said, getting up from his chair.

He considered just going over to the couch and waiting for Snape to join him as they'd done last time, but Snape still had a startled air about him that seemed to be holding the man in place. It was almost as though now that he wasn't in what he called crisis, Snape didn't know how to proceed.

It was a shock to realize that in his own way, Snape was as inexperienced at this kind of thing as he was. Paying someone to allow you to drink their blood didn't really count as sexual experience, even if Snape did end up pleasuring his paid companions, as Harry suspected happened. Snape had used his mouth too well last time for that to have been his first experience.

Once again, the fact that his companion wasn't any more confident than he was at the moment eased his anxieties.

Giving a nervous smile, Harry moved towards Snape's chair and crouched down in front of it. "Last time worked out well for us both, didn't it?"

Still wearing that engaging bemused air, Snape gave a nod.

Those dark eyes were fixed on him as though they'd never seen anything like him before.

"What – what would you like?" Harry asked, unable to hide his nervousness. "Or don't you . . . like foreplay?"

That was something that he hadn't considered, that a vampire's needs might pertain only to blood and feeding. All love play might be superfluous to Snape.

"I'm open to anything you wish to do. Our . . . agreement is for our mutual benefit."

That didn't really answer his question, beyond telling him that Snape was willing to indulge him.

Thinking that the lack of harshness in his expression really suited Snape, Harry leaned forward to try a kiss. It felt weird as hell to be doing this with Snape, of all people, but he remembered how good Snape had made him feel the last time they were together. Snape might be the unlikeliest of candidates for seduction, but the first breath of the man's scent made Harry go instantly hard.

It was probably just the pheromones hitting, he realized. But since it felt amazing, he really didn't care.

Snape's hand settled on the centre of his chest, right before their mouths made contact. He tensed, thinking that Snape would stop him from following through, which would be too humiliating for words.

Harry could see in Snape's eyes that the man was startled by his wanting to kiss him, perhaps even unnerved. The contact did feel weird. It was nearly too intimate, since he had to lean his entire body against Snape to reach the taller man's mouth. But aside from that one touch, Snape made no move to stop him.

This was hardly his first kiss, but it almost felt that way. There was an enchanting, first-time awkwardness to the uncertain way their mouths brushed against each other that was terribly moving. Snape didn't seem to know which way to turn his head as Harry leaned forward to meet him, which resulted in a somewhat painful bump of their noses.

Harry reached up and buried his hands in Snape's hair, which felt soft and clean tonight, and held his head in place while he repositioned his own face for another try.

This time, their noses missed each other. When he felt their lips settle against one another, he started kissing the unresponsive mouth.

At first, it was like kissing a statue. Snape seemed nearly frozen, almost as though he were waiting for some kind of disaster to strike. But when nothing untoward occurred, the tension seemed to leave Snape's form and the lips beneath his own began to kiss back.

"Mmmmm," Harry hummed his approval as their mouths started to move hungrily against each other.

Curious to see what would happen, he swiped his tongue across Snape's warm lips. They opened immediately to him.

Snape's mouth was as incredibly luscious as his scent. As Harry explored those warm, juicy depths, his senses began to reel in a dizzying burst of pleasure. He could feel a totally wonderful warmth spreading through him, spiking his heartbeat and respiration. All he could hear was the pounding of his heart and the small sounds of pleasure that he couldn't hold in. Shocked, he realized that the sitting room around him actually seemed to be spinning.

Snape's hands settled on the sides of Harry's head and firmly, if gently, pushed him back. "Easy."

Actually dizzy, rather than merely excited, he exclaimed, "Whew! What happened? I feel . . . drunk."

The fingertips of Snape's right hand played over his cheek in a distracting caress that seemed unintentional.

"Remember, my saliva has an aphrodisiac effect. You'll grow accustomed to it in time and be able to withstand it for longer intervals . . . should we continue this arrangement, but – "

"Small doses at first?" Harry asked, and gave a small smile of encouragement because that 'should we continue' and Snape's entire attitude seemed to suggest that the other man was expecting him to change his mind.

Since Snape was touching his cheek, he figured he was entitled to do the same. Reaching out to stroke Snape's close shaven cheek and jaw, he softly questioned, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

Snape gave a nod, still watching him as though he couldn't really believe he was here.

"When I fought that vampire last month, his breath was foul, really bad. But your breath smells good. I noticed it last time, too. Yours is almost sweeter than normal," Harry added.

"He'd just drained a victim dead, hadn't he?" Snape checked. At Harry's nod, Snape explained, "Right before the human body dies, it releases certain chemicals into the blood. If a vampire feeds until he kills his partner, those chemicals enter his body and react with his own system. I've never killed while feeding, so my body isn't tainted that way."

"Oh. Can I ask something else?" Harry questioned, running his thumb over the corner of Snape's mouth. To his delight, that mouth twitched a little, as if repressing a smile. "How much of what I'm feeling is me and how much the result of your body's chemical effect on mine?"

Snape snorted. "I suspect that it's all chemistry, Potter. What else could it be?"

"You're not terribly romantic, are you?" Harry complained, bending forward to kiss Snape's high cheekbone before the man could respond to the rhetorical question.

It was only after the words were out that he realized how inappropriate they were. This wasn't about romance. Snape was in it for the blood, he for the sex. Romance had nothing to do with it.

He tensed, waiting for Snape to remind him of that fact in no uncertain terms, but Snape merely met his gaze and softly replied, "What would a creature such as I know of romance? You can't believe that any of my paid companions want to waste their time kissing me?"

Sensing the pain buried behind that sarcastic comment, he kissed Snape's left temple and softly stroked his fingers over his companion's strong boned facial features. Lifting his lips, he whispered into Snape's nearby ear, "They don't know what they're missing. You're very good at it."

To prove his point, he joined their mouths again. Harry hadn't been lying. It wasn't simply the weird chemistry of Snape's saliva. The man really did use his mouth well, taking Harry's upper lip between his own and kneading hungrily against it.

For all that it was the most immensely enjoyable oral contact he could recall, this kiss was even more of a physical stretch for Harry. Their current position with him on his knees between Snape's long legs was too uncomfortable.

Before he could comment, Snape once again pulled back with a low warning, "Careful, or this will be over before you know it."

As the room was doing that dizzying swirl again, he could hardly argue the point. Harry tried to reach Snape's' hair to card his hands through it, but Snape's knees inadvertently got in the way and restricted his movement.

"This isn't going to work," Harry announced and climbed onto Snape's lap before his words could be misinterpreted. They both gave a surprised grunt as he straddled Snape's hips and the front of their trousers crushed together. "That's better, much better." Bracing his hands on Snape's narrow, robed shoulders, he bent down to gently kiss the centre of Snape's high forehead. "I think we've got great chemistry," he said against the cool skin.

"I think you're deranged," Snape replied, but his hand rose to stroke over his back in a welcoming manner that belied his words. Then Snape reached up to carefully remove Harry 's glasses and place them on the nearby end table beside his now cold mug of tea.

Harry blinked in a near-sighted blur for a moment until Snape's features refocused, only a little fuzzy since the man was so close. Normally, not being able to see clearly bothered him, but he was feeling blurry all over at the moment.

He'd never sat on anyone's lap like this before. His knees were tucked on either side of Snape's narrow hips, with his butt resting on the other man's bony knees. Snape was a burning heat between his thighs. It felt strange as hell and a little awkward because they still really didn't know each other all that well, but it was hot, so incredibly hot.

"Do you like this?" Harry checked. "Am I too heavy?"

"Yes, and no, in that order," Snape replied, still watching him with rapt attention.

The open admission of liking him sitting on his lap was more of a concession than he'd hoped for. Temporarily at a loss as to what to do now that kissing had been vetoed from the agenda in favour of consciousness, he stared down into Snape's face. It was strange, but he was growing quite fond of those stark features.

Sucking the spit out of Snape's mouth might have been ruled out, but that didn't mean he couldn't kiss the man in other places, did it?

"Do you mind if I – "

"Short of driving a stake through my heart, I am agreeable to anything you'd like." Snape seemed to consider his words for a moment before hesitantly adding, "And if you wait until I'm feeding to suggest it, I might even agree to that."

Truly happy for the first time in memory, he leaned down to shower Snape's face with kisses. He spent a long time getting to know every curve, wrinkle, and feature. He could tell that Snape was enjoying his attentions by how relaxed the muscles under his lips were becoming.

After a long time, he lifted his head to smile down at this man he was beginning to think of as his first real lover. "You like that, hmmm?"

Holding his gaze, Snape gave a slow nod, seeming almost surprised by the fact.

"So do I. Can I kiss your mouth again?" Harry plaintively requested.

"Don't linger there, unless you want me to feed now," Snape warned. "Until your system acclimates to me, my saliva will cause you great pleasure, but diminish your, er . . . initiative."

"We can't have diminished initiative, can we?" he joked in a breathy tone and bent his mouth towards Snape's thin lips again.

This kiss was as sweet as the first. Snape's taste flashed through his blood like a drug, potent and undeniable. He heeded Snape's warning and pulled back as soon as his senses started to spin.

Relieved, Harry saw the first sparks of desire flash in those dark eyes. He hadn't even been sure that a vampire could experience normal sexual arousal. The books he'd read had been utterly uninformative about vampire sexuality. Vampires were considered predatory dark creatures. There wasn't a lot of research done on their mating habits.

Snape still seemed unaccountably shocked by what was happening between them. Harry remembered what Snape had said about his paid companions not wanting to waste time kissing him. Was it possible that in all the years Snape had been renting company that no one had taken the time to touch him like this?

That just struck him as entirely unfair, but he could so easily see it happening. Snape was so unapproachable to start with. Harry couldn't imagine what the man was like in a situation Snape hated as much as he seemed to dislike his bi-weekly blood procurements.

He recalled that Snape had said that his proposed arrangement saved Snape from humiliation. He supposed it must be mortifying for the dignified potions master to have to approach prostitutes. At least, that was what he hoped Snape was referring to.

Snape probably had to do a lot more than approach the prostitutes, Harry realized. Snape's vampire's saliva would no doubt have the same effect on his rented companions as it did on Harry, and Harry was getting to know Snape well enough to suspect that the man wouldn't leave his partners strung out for sex after feeding. Snape would probably feel he owed it to his partners to get them off afterwards. Harry had a feeling that Snape probably handled the situation the same as he had with him last time – kept the arrangement as one sided and impersonal as possible while he fed and then dealt with his companion's inevitable arousal as quickly as he could. Aside from the blood he needed to survive, he doubted if Snape took any pleasure for himself.

That was changing as of tonight. Maybe it was just a stupefying effect of the vampire's pheromones and chemistry, but he wanted to make Snape feel as good as Snape had made him feel last time.

Harry knew that wasn't exactly sticking to his sex-with-no-emotional-involvement plan, but he couldn't help but want to give back some of the joy Snape was giving him. That wasn't getting involved. It was just being . . . polite.

He lowered his mouth to the tempting expanse of Snape's white throat, kissing and nuzzling there. That got him a definite reaction. Snape emitted a soft moan that sounded as much of surprise as of pleasure.

Harry licked and kissed the soft, vulnerable skin, to both their bodies' delight. Snape's flesh was cooler to the touch than that of a normal human's, but not unpleasantly so.

Harry could feel how rapidly the slender chest he was leaning against was moving. He was finding it hard to catch his breath himself.

Needing more, his fingers scrambled to the collar of the impossible amount of clothes Snape was wearing.

He froze as Snape caught his hands, holding them in place.

Sounding almost shy, Snape quietly said, "Potter, you needn't. I should be the one pleasuring you . . . ."

Harry slid his palm around in Snape's loose hold until they were clasping hands instead of Snape constraining him. He lifted the hand in his right palm and rubbed Snape's knuckles against his cheek. "Can't we please each other? I . . . want to touch your skin. All over. You said I could do anything I wanted with you," he reminded.

"So I did," Snape slowly said, clearly ill at ease.

"So how was I supposed to do that with all these clothes on us?" he asked in a lighter tone, wanting to ease the shadows and tension from Snape's eyes and face. He could nearly touch the bad memories moving through the other man's mind.

"Complete nudity isn't necessary. In the past when men have wanted . . . to penetrate me after I fed, I merely lowered my trousers and turned over."

"And let them stick it to you cold?" In retrospect, Harry realized how inappropriate his appalled question was, but he couldn't hold it back.

Snape's hand tightened around his own. "After I've fed, I'm totally relaxed. There is next to no discomfort." He didn't know Snape all that well, but he sensed a whopper of a lie there. "You needn't concern yourself with – "

He stopped the foolish statement by the simple expedient of covering Snape's mouth with his own again. He was trying so hard not to feel anything but physical sensation, but his heart was aching for this man.

He needn't concern himself with making sure he didn't hurt someone he was having sex with? Did Snape really believe that was going to work with him?

The kiss seemed to distract them both from the discussion.

Even with all the stormy emotions he was experiencing, the second he tasted Snape's mouth he was hit with those waves of delight. The aphrodisiac in Snape's saliva sizzled through his blood, easing the anxiety, as it was no doubt designed to do. When the room started to sway again, he lifted his head and stared into those uneasy black eyes. "I like touching you. You like how it feels. I can see you do. It . . . doesn't have to be cold and impersonal with me." As Snape's gaze slipped almost guiltily away, he pleaded, "What? Talk to me, please? Tell me what you're thinking,"

Snape let go of his hands. Taking hold of his elbows, Snape guided him back until he was sitting up in Snape's lap and there was some room between them. "The only way I've been able to survive what necessity forces me to do is by . . . not letting myself feel. What you are offering is dangerous."

"How? I know you well enough to know you won’t lose control and hurt me," he protested. He'd never had this kind of intense discussion while curled on someone's lap. The intimacy of their positions felt almost strange when faced with the invisible wall Snape was attempting to erect between them.

"Not dangerous to you," Snape specified.

"What's that supposed to mean? How is wanting to touch you and make you feel good dangerous?" Harry couldn't understand this at all. It wasn't as though he were asking Snape to marry him or something equally preposterous. He was simply asking to have normal relations with the man.

"Harry Potter, you are a beautiful and tempting man."

"And that's a bad thing?" he asked with a small smile, not understanding.

Snape ran a hand through his recently washed hair. They were so close Harry could smell the herbal fragrance that lingered from Snape's shampoo. "It would be . . . very easy for me to succumb to your charms and allow myself to . . . delight in what you so freely offer."

"I still don't see what the problem is, then," Harry said.

"You will not always be here. In fact, I would be surprised if our arrangement lasted more than a few feedings. It has been my experience that when you come to rely on something, and it is no longer available, that dearth is far more acute than the original state of ignorant absence," Snape explained.

"So you never let yourself have any joy at all? What kind of sense is that?"

It was only after the words were out that Harry realized that he could just as well have been talking about himself as easily as Snape. Hadn't he done just that after Ron and Hermione were killed? Hadn't he shut himself down and hid from the world?

"It is the only sense I know," Snape stiffly replied.

His self-discovery had shaken him so badly that his hand was actually trembling as he reached out to stroke the long black hair back from Snape's frowning brow. "Sex . . . shouldn't hurt."

He mightn't know much, but he was certain of that much.

"It's never been about sex for me. I'm there to feed," Snape insisted.

"So you punish yourself for feeding by allowing your partners to . . . brutalize you?" he questioned, horrified by the idea.

"Most times, they are content with my mouth," Snape answered. "This really isn't pertinent. Is it?"

"It is if you think I'm going to let you drop trou and just . . . bugger you. I know it's . . . a frightening chance to take, but you can't go on living like that. You're not a monster. You've got a right to . . . touch, and to laugh, and to feel. We both do," Harry insisted.

The vehemence of his last statement seemed to echo in the strangely silent chambers. The only sounds were the crackling of the fire and their hoarse breaths.

"You really . . . don't consider me a monster?" Snape asked at last.

"Would I be wanting to get naked with a monster? Would I offer it my blood or be upset when it didn't want to let me look at it? You're no monster. You're a man and you've a right to . . .some joy. Denying yourself like this isn't fair to either of us."

"How is it not fair to you?" Snape asked, as though the idea of someone wanting to touch his naked body were utterly alien to him.

"Well, it isn't really going to be as much fun if I can't touch your body. It'll make me feel . . . I don't know . . . like we're doing something dirty," Harry softly explained.

Harry gulped at the expression in Snape's eyes, clearly reading the fact that Snape had been viewed as something ugly and dirty his entire life.

"You're suggesting that my reticence will punish you as well?" Snape hesitantly asked.

It hadn't been what he'd meant, but it was true. If Snape refused to take his clothes off and relax, he was going to feel like he was forcing the man to have sex with him. "Well, if you're going to stay dressed, I'm not going to feel comfortable taking my clothes off. It wouldn't be . . . equal. My being naked while you weren't would just make me feel . . . cheap somehow. I don't want to feel like a whore, Severus."

Snape's eyebrows wrinkled in concentration. "No, of course, you don't. Forgive me, this is all new to me. My paid companions are usually relieved to remain dressed. But I can understand where it wouldn't be appropriate in this situation."

Harry stared at that pensive face, but he couldn't decide what Snape had actually said he'd do. "Was that a yes or a no?"

"It was a yes," Snape said, although it sounded like he was agreeing against his better judgement. "However, could we move into the bedroom where it is more comfortable?"

"Thank you," Harry acknowledged, risking another fast kiss. "We can go anywhere you like."

He climbed carefully off Snape's lap. He watched his companion rise from the chair. He had to tilt his head back to hold Snape's gaze; the man was so tall.

With marked hesitance, Snape led the way into the bedroom.

Harry remembered the heavy mahogany furnishings and green velvet draped pour-poster bed from his last visit. The only difference in the room that he could see was that the fire wasn't lit and the bedclothes were a different colour. Tonight the duvet was a deep brown and the pillowcases were tan.

Snape walked over to the wardrobe and began to disrobe. His face was so tense and strained that he looked as though he expected to be marched off to the Ministry Vampire Disposal Unit as soon as he was done. Harry couldn't help but notice that Snape never once looked over in his direction.

Stifling a sigh, he pulled his Henley over his head, removed his boots, and then his pants, socks and underwear. He'd thought it would be fun to undress each other, but his companion's discomfort was so palpable he was beginning to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have just let them carry on the way they'd been going.

Naked before Snape had even finished unbuttoning the dozens of buttons on his waistcoat, Harry took a seat on the duvet to wait . . . and watch.

The black waistcoat was finally undone. Snape hung it carefully on a hanger in the wardrobe. Harry stared at the stark white shirt on Snape's back, realizing that this was the first time he'd ever seen the other man in anything other than his robes, jacket, and waistcoat. Those outer garments gave Snape a lot of bulk. Without them, he seemed slender and oddly vulnerable.

The shirt came off next. There was, of course, yet another layer beneath, that of white long sleeved undershirt. After a brief pause, Snape pulled that off and Harry finally saw some skin.

He gulped at the sight of Snape's longish hair falling over his bare shoulders. Those shoulders were narrow, but the skin on them looked white as spilt milk. That was weird, considering how sallow Severus' face was. Harry wondered if the difference in skin colour were due to the respective areas' exposure to sunlight. Vampires were said to be exceptionally sensitive to sunlight. Maybe vampire skin reacted differently to the sun's rays than a normal human's. The fact that Severus' hands bore a similar discolouration seemed to prove his hyphothesis.

Snape's back was long and rail-thin, but it had that same perfect skin covering it, so Harry was more than pleased.

As Snape bent down to deal with his shoes, Harry was treated to his first view of the other man's trouser-covered backside. Like the rest of Snape, the area was lean, but nicely shaped.

Snape straightened up. This time the pause was longer before Snape's hands moved to undo his trouser fastening.

His breath caught in his lungs as those last barriers were peeled away. That same lovely skin appeared inch by slow inch as Snape bent to push his trousers and underwear down the impossibly long stretch of his legs. Once again, Harry was graced with the view of that bending posterior; only this time it was naked, and utterly gorgeous.

Since he was starkers himself, there was no hiding his reaction to Snape's bare body. His cock rose in a stiff arrow against his flat belly. Not that Snape could see it. The man still had his back to him.

Snape straightened up and then hung his trousers in the wardrobe. When he was done, Snape seemed to stare at the closet in front of him for a long while before his back tensed to ramrod straightness and he slowly turned to face Harry.

Harry's first impression was of that same porcelain perfect skin. It seemed to go on forever. The only interruptions in that whiteness were Snape's pink nipples, the dark thatch at Snape's groin, a tiny showing of black hair at his armpits, and the faded black Dark Mark on his left forearm that Harry caught a flash of as Snape turned to him.

He found himself openly staring at his companion's cock. Like his own, the wine red organ was uncut. But, unsurprisingly, given their differences in height, Snape was a lot longer than him and somewhat thinner there.

He took in the rest of Snape's body almost as an afterthought, since he couldn't seem to keep his gaze from that hardening cock for long. Snape's waist, chest, and shoulders were terribly narrow. The man was too thin. He could actually count his ribs. Snape appeared almost starved, which probably made sense, in light of the fact that Snape denied his need for blood until he had no choice but to feed.

A blush of colour played across Snape's cheeks when Harry finally managed to raise his gaze to his companion's face. He was confused by the tension and hardness in those strong boned features. Snape looked as though he were about to die of embarrassment, he realized. At first he didn't understand why, then he remembered all the unkind things he'd ever said or heard others say about Snape's appearance over the years. Exposing himself like this had to be nerve-wracking as hell for the other man.

He could appreciate Snape's nervousness, since this was his own first time being naked before a lover's eyes as well.

Thinking that one of them really ought to say something soon, he fished for something to say.

"Your skin's like a field of freshly fallen snow," he said, wanting to remove that uncertainty. "I like it a lot."

Snape's gulp was audible from halfway across the room. Those dark eyes swept over Harry 's sitting form. Then Snape seemed to force himself to say, "I prefer the patterns your hair makes."

The hesitant words shouldn't have had much effect on him, but Harry felt himself light up like a Christmas tree with pleasure at the compliment. He glanced down at the dark hair on his own chest, ridiculously happy that it had pleased Snape.

"Works out good, don't you think?" he asked.

Snape nodded. The man seemed perfectly content to simply stand there and look at him.

"Are you going to join me here or do you want me to come to you?" Harry asked when the mutual staring was beginning to feel awkward.

Snape crossed to him with that same graceful motion he'd noted earlier. Only, this time he got to watch how it made Snape's heavy pink balls jiggle as he walked.

Snape paused in front of him, as though unsure of the protocol for joining him in his own bed.

The temptation of all that unmarred skin was too much to resist. Harry reached out to lay his hand in the centre of Snape's chest. He felt the shocked breath the other man released at his touch.

Feeling very brave, he bent forward to slip his arms around Snape's slender waist and rested his cheek against Snape's pronounced ribs. His skin was cool and soft as velvet. That wonderful sweet scent inundated his senses, making him feel at home with its arousing familiarity.

Something in Harry relaxed when Snape's arms surrounded his shoulders, completing the embrace. For the longest time, they simply held onto each other.

Then Snape's hands took hold of his head and raised his face up. Holding his gaze, Snape stooped down to kiss his mouth.

Harry latched onto those thin lips like a kissing gourami. Snape's tongue met his somewhere in between. They played a sensual game of tag, chasing and pushing each other's tongue from one mouth to the other.

When that inebriated sense of reeling swept through him again, he reluctantly pulled back to breathe in some moist, Snape scented air. It didn't help clear his head any.

Snape guided him back onto the cool duvet, following him down to feed at his mouth some more. Wondering if vampire saliva were actually addictive, he kissed back, powerless to refuse at this point. That incredible energized lassitude he remembered from their last encounter was stealing through him as Snape's saliva took effect on him.

He moaned as Snape carefully settled his bony weight on top of him. Their cocks nestled together in an explosive flare of delight. His hands settled on that long, thin back, restlessly roving as Snape kissed him until he was well beyond light-headed.

Snape finally raised his head and let him have some more air.

Every cell in his body leapt in excitement as Snapes kissed over his jaw, sucking his way down his neck until he reached his jugular. His flesh remembered what Snape could make him feel here. Harry panted in sobbing breaths, as wave upon wave of raw delight ripped through him as that sleek tongue began to lick his skin.

This time he thought he could actually feel the saliva penetrating his epidermis and warming his blood. He was dizzy, and high, and so aroused that he thought he'd pop just from the feel of that tongue moving over his throat. The tender torture seemed to go on forever, until finally he felt that initial, sharp pain as his companion's fangs sank through his skin.

Those fangs slicing through his flesh was the strangest sensation, but then the teeth pulled back out, Snape began to suck, and the universe throbbed with need. Every draw Snape made to pull the blood out those two tiny holes felt almost like a mini-orgasm. In his mindless state of rapture, Harry could only marvel at how utterly lost he was to this feeling. Christ, if it ever got out how good this felt, there'd be people lining up outside the dungeon door to donate their blood to Snape.

Only, he wasn't going to share this. This wonder was his, and he planned to hold onto it as long as Snape would let him.

He was flying so high that he couldn't be certain that he didn't pass out. The delight was so intense, and so overwhelming that he couldn't get any kind of emotional distance from it. All he could do was feel and moan. But eventually, he became aware of the fact that Snape had stopped sucking. That skilful tongue was now lapping where Snape had fed, desensitising the skin there with every brush of that velvet rough swab.

Snape lifted his face from Harry 's neck and stared down at him. Just like last time, the change feeding had upon the vampire's constitution was astonishing. All the yellow tinge had left Snape's face. There was a healthy, aroused blush in his thin cheeks.

As he smiled up at Snape, his companion's mouth responded in a small, helpless smile. For the first time he got a clear view of Snape's fangs. The potion master's incisors had doubled in size, ending in wicked looking tips. If it weren't for the tender expression softening Snape's face, his altered teeth would have been terrifying, but there was just so much open gentleness in those strong-boned features that Harry couldn't feel anything but happy.

Curious, he reached up to touch the changed teeth.

Snape's lips clenched tightly shut.

"Let me?" he whispered, stroking his fingertips over the tight-closed mouth.

Almost as if Snape could deny him nothing, those lips reluctantly parted.

"How do they grow?" Harry asked, his curiosity overcoming even his desire at the moment. "They weren't like this before when we were kissing."

He knew that for a fact because he'd charted every one of Snape's teeth.

"They're retractable. They emerge when my hormones reach a certain level when I begin to feed and then retract when the levels drops again," Snape explained. From his expression, it was clear that he wasn't entirely comfortable discussing the particulars of his condition.

"That guy I killed in the alley, his teeth were long, even though he'd finished feeding."

He could see how uneasy Snape was, but Snape's gaze remained locked on his own, as though he were determined to give him total honesty in this. "He was hunting. Adrenaline can have a . . . dramatic effect on vampire physiology when we're already . . . aroused."

"Well, I like your teeth," he said with a grin. "Can I touch them?"

Snape gave a bemused nod and held still for him.

Harry stuck his index finger in and felt the altered top incisor. Even though he moved with extreme care, the razor sharp tip still pierced his skin.

His surprised gasp turned into a moan of utter pleasure as Snape sucked the blood off his injured finger. That suction went straight to his cock, which was still hard as a rock and letting him know how unhappy it was with the wait he'd made it endure.

Harry had never seen anything like the light glittering in those bottomless black eyes as they stared down at him.

"You're incredible," Harry raggedly whispered. His hips instinctively thrust his throbbing erection up at Snape's hip.

"And you are in need of release," Snape replied. "What would you like?"

"I . . . I don't know. You feel so good all over; it's hard to think," he said, running his hands up and down the length of Snape's spine.

"That's a lingering effect of my saliva in your blood." Snape said as he tightened his hands on Harry's arms.

He gasped as Snape rolled over onto his back and reversed their positions, so that Harry was now on top. If it had felt good to have that warm weight blanketing him, it felt even better to have it under him. He couldn't help but hump down against Snape's groin.

To his intense confusion, Snape felt as though he were still only partially erect beneath him. But it still felt incredible to thrust against that magnificent cock.

"Easy," Snape cautioned in a voice so softened and changed that he barely recognized it as Snape's, except it still had the same sensual, deep timbre. "You'll finish fast if you do that." Snape's right hand rose to gently card through Harry 's ragged hair. "What do you normally prefer to do with your lovers?"

"I don't . . . I mean . . . ." he stammered, too strung out to even try to explain that Snape was his first real lover and he hadn't a clue what he preferred. "What do you like best?"

Snape leaned up to kiss his mouth again. It was like another hit of some potent narcotic, for the room reeled again. When Snape withdrew a breathless time later, he only raised his lips up fractionally and whispered almost into Harry 's mouth, "I like you, Harry Potter, any way you wish."

The legs supporting him spread wide. Harry grunted in shock as he slipped down between them and felt the power of their grip on him. Snape's foot rubbed up and down the back of his hairy calf, making him shudder.

"Your body knows what it wants," Snape said in that deep hypnotic tone that shivered straight through him. Then Snape shifted under him again, pulling his knees up so that Harry's hungry cock slipped between his buttocks. He could just feel that tight opening against his glans. "I'd very much like to know you that way."

His insides lurched with need when he felt the heat of the crease his cock was nestled in. Snape was right. His body did want this. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. All he wanted was to thrust and come. He was that close. Only . . . .

Only Snape was still not fully aroused, and he was dry as a bone. Harry might be a novice to doing this, but he was familiar with the mechanics in theory. If he pushed up into Snape's dry body with nothing but the pre-cum on the tip of his cock, it was going to hurt like hell and possibly even injure his companion. He wasn't one of Snape's anonymous prostitutes. He knew this man. He . . . cared about . . . Snape's pleasure and was not going to hurt him. But his body was on fire, demanding satisfaction, and Snape was too obliging.

Gasping in a breath that carried Snape's sweet pheromones on it, and only increased his desperate haze of desire, he met that bottomless gaze and choked out, "Not without a lubricant."

Snape's expression grew very soft. He reached up to guide him down into another deep, open-mouthed kiss.

The fangs had retracted, Harry noticed, as his tongue plunged deep into Snape's mouth, thrusting in and out the way his cock was longing to.

He could feel his will faltering under the effects of the chemical in Snape's saliva. Thought became near impossible. All he was was throbbing need.

He wondered if Snape were using the kiss and its chemical effect to purposefully suborn his will. But when Snape finally pulled back, he whispered, "As you wish. Accio lubricant cream."

A moment later, a brown glass jar floated over to the bed from the open bathroom door. Snape fished the jar out of the air and handed it to him.

Harry pulled back a little from Snape, turned his head so that he wasn't in the direct line of all those pheromones, and gulped in some breaths of cool air. It took a moment to calm himself enough for even rudimentary thought, but eventually, his brain kicked back into gear.

The lubricant was a good start, but all the books he'd read had all agreed that it would be more enjoyable for Snape if he were aroused and relaxed as well. Right now, the body beneath him wasn't very tense, but Harry was still highly conscious of the fact that Snape's beautiful cock was still only partially erect.

Putting the jar down on the brown duvet beside him, he reached out with both hands to finger Snape's nipples. Grasping the small, pink buds, he gave them a gentle squeeze.

Pleased, he heard Snape hiss in a shocked breath. Recalling how sensitive Snape's neck had been to kissing and sucking, he bent to nuzzle that luscious length of throat, while his fingers kept up their rhythmic squeezes.

When Snape's breathing seemed to be nearly as erratic as his own, he kissed his way down to those tender nubs of flesh and started sucking. The moan that elicited was sweet and long.

Working on instinct, he trailed kisses down Snape's concave belly until he reached that thick patch of neat black pubic hair. Relieved, Harry saw that lovely shaft pointing straight up at him at full attention.

He took the hardening penis into his right hand and gave an experimental squeeze.

Snape actually cried out at that. Harry felt Snape's folded up knees clasp his sides tight, his body bucking up at him.

Needing to taste that lush shaft, he shimmied down a bit in the bed. Taking a deep breath that was heavy with Snape's sweet musk, he opened his mouth and sucked in the tip of the straining cock, flicking his tongue up under the foreskin.

Snape cried out, his hands jumping to Harry 's head to dig his fingers deep into Harry 's unruly black hair and hold on tight.

Snape tasted of salt, bitter pre-cum, and something indefinable that he suspected had to do with his companion's vampire constitution. The flavour rocked through him nearly as devastatingly as Snape's saliva did.

The next few minutes were a crash course in fellatio.

He'd only done this that once with Ron, and that had been a total disaster. Ron's eyes had been closed the whole time and he'd gasped out Hermione's name as he'd come. Even now Harry could feel that cold sense of horror spreading through him as he'd been forced to acknowledge the truth, that he'd never be more than a mouth in the dark to the only person he'd truly loved in his life.

But he had a feeling that nothing like that would happen with Snape tonight. For starters, they barely tolerated each other. Neither of them was going to be crushed if the other were thinking of someone else. They were both here for their own selfish reasons, and those reasons had nothing to do with anything that could cause hurt feelings.

A stray glance upwards as he sucked on that luscious cock head found Snape's dark, glinting eyes wide open and riveted on his face.

He wasn't expecting the expression of shocked wonder that was softening Snape's features and making him look rather young and uncharacteristically vulnerable. It seemed like the other man literally could not believe what was happening.

Harry tried to ignore it, but no one had ever looked at him like that before, like he was the most incredible thing they'd ever seen. And here he was, struggling not to choke on Snape's bulk and make a total arse of himself!

Doing his best to please while he learned the way of it, Harry sucked in more and more of that large cock. It took a bit of work, but he finally got the knack of breathing around the intrusive bulk while opening his throat to accept as much of Severus as he could handle.

When it seemed that his companion was as close as he was, Harry lifted his head from his task and gazed down at Snape's face. Snape's dark lashed eyelids had closed. His thin mouth was parted in what looked like a silent "oh," of wonder.

For the first time ever, Snape didn't look harsh or mean or ugly. Harry was almost stunned by what he'd done to this normally insouciant man. There was no doubt at all in his mind that Snape would call out nobody's name but his as he came. It was a childish and petty thought, unworthy of his best friend's memory, but the acknowledgement made him feel powerful in a way he never had before.

It didn't take an Auror to figure out that this was Snape's best time ever. It was written all over Snape's uncharacteristically open face.

As if he'd felt him watching, Snape's eyelids parted. Their gazes locked. It almost felt like he was falling into those dark depths; there was so much emotion there. Hunger, need, and shock were burning in Snape's gaze, but there was something more fragile below those emotions, something he couldn't decipher, something that made his own stomach flutter.

The moment was broken when Snape pulled his knees up tight to his chest and rolled his bottom half upwards until his bum was directly in Harry's line of vision.

There being no possibility of delay at this point, Harry fumbled for the jar of lubricant from where it had all but disappeared into the same coloured duvet. He got the lid off and sank his fingers deep into the gooey, white depths. The cream had a nice, fresh scent, not too sweet or cloying.

Harry took a healthy amount onto his trembling fingers, and then transferred it to where it needed to go, which turned out to be a little more difficult than he'd imagined because Snape's entrance wasn't placed exactly where he expected it to be when he slipped his hand between those slender cheeks.

Snape seemed so lost in sensation that he failed to notice his awkward fumbling.

Eventually, Harry found his objective. The ring of muscle was tight. He circled it with his gooey middle finger before pushing up through the tense ring. As he carefully pushed up the narrow tract, his fingertip nudged a soft, rounded protrusion on the previously smooth wall of flesh.

Snape gave a shocked sounding grunt.

Realizing what he must have touched, he pressed the nub again. This time his efforts earned him a desperate sounding moan.

He played an erotic symphony against that wonderful hidden button to Snape's' pleasure, delighting in every sound and groan he inspired. When he felt the passage around his finger loosen up, Harry eased back out and then pushed back into Snape with two fingers.

They were both fairly mindless at this point. Working with a panting, sweaty diligence, he stretched that passage as much as he could.

Knowing he wouldn't hold out another minute, he pulled his fingers free, sank them back into the open jar, and then coated his blood-engorged cock with the cool white lotion. He took hold of those alabaster butt cheeks and slowly parted them.

This was the first time he'd seen the opening where his fingers had been. Snape's dark, glistening entrance appeared too tiny to even think of penetrating with his distended cock, but there would be no stopping now. He positioned himself against that frighteningly small aperture and pushed down.

To his shocked relief, there was next to no resistance. The elastic-like muscles guarding Snape's most private entrance allowed him to enter with a minimum of force. Harry could feel the narrow channel stretching to accommodate his bulk.

They were both panting and bathed with sweat when his cock nudged that protrusion his fingers had taken such delight in. Snape's grunt was one of pure, animal pleasure.

New as he might be to all of this, Harry was a quick learner. He rocked his hips and repeated the contact, with similar results. Every time he hit that spot, Snape gave that same hot noise. It was beyond erotic. Harry was so aroused, he thought he'd melt.

He held out a few desperate minutes, long enough to find a rhythm that worked for them.

Quite suddenly, Snape gasped out a hoarse and strangled sounding, "Potter!" and bathed them both with his sticky seed.

Even as Snape's muscles convulsed in orgasm, Harry continued to nail Snape's prostate, working that sweet pleasure spot as much as he could before toppling over into his own orgasm.

Every cell he owned exploded with joy as he spurted his seed deep into Snape's body. His own outcry seemed to shake the dungeon walls as the ecstasy flashed through him with searing delight.

He came and came and came . . . and then he wilted like a tidal wave after it hit the rocks. His cock slipped out of Snape as he lost his balance and tumbled forward onto his companion.

Snape caught him. Strong arms shifted him around in the bed until he found himself under the duvet using Snape as a pillow.

His prolonged contact with the vampire's stimulatory chemicals took its toll as it had their previous time together. Every last bit of energy seemed drained from him.

Harry gasped for air while his cheek rested against that smooth, warm chest. He could feel Snape's hand stroking his back in calming circles.

Then the blackness took him again and that lingering afterglow was all that he knew.

*****

Chapter Four

"Hello," Harry called two weeks later, stepping out of the floo into Snape's sitting room.

Snape was sitting in what Harry now knew to be his favourite chair, marking test papers. Harry couldn't help but wince when he saw the amount of red ink on what he suspected was a hapless Gryffindor's test.

He tried to ignore the frisson of excitement that slithered through him at the sight of that dour face. But he'd spent the last two weeks daydreaming about the things Snape and he had done last time. His heartbeat sped up at the first glance of Snape and the air in the room suddenly seemed hot and hard to catch.

Snape looked up at him as he staggered out of the fireplace a few feet in front of him. Even though Snape tried to hide it, he could clearly see that the other man was surprised to see him.

In retrospect, Harry realized that he probably should have owled this morning to confirm that he was expected. He'd said he'd see Snape in two weeks when he'd left after the first night of their arrangement, but there was no missing Snape's shock, even though it was quickly veiled.

"Er, I did say I'd come back in two weeks," Harry reminded, feeling utterly awkward. "I guess I should have owled to confirm. Sorry . . . have you had second thoughts?"

Snape finally seemed to find his tongue. "No, no second thoughts."

"Why the shocked look, then?" he asked, not moving any further into the room. It was entirely possible that Snape might have hoped he wouldn't come back. Their last encounter had been a bit more intense than either of them had bargained on.

"I thought you might have changed your mind," Snape said. "It is after nine."

"I made a late arrest and got caught up in the interrogation. I couldn't get out to owl or firecall," he said. The excuse sounded lame to even his own ears. "I came straight from work. I'm sorry I'm so late."

Snape's equanimity impressed him. Harry didn't know if he would have been sitting there calmly grading papers if Snape had been more than a half hour late on the first real test of their arrangement. He'd have thought he'd been stood up.

The Snape he'd known in childhood would have savaged him for not having owled or firecalled, but the stranger wearing that familiar, harsh face in front of him merely said in a soft voice, "It's of no matter. You're here now."

"I can't believe you're not angry with me," he said. "I thought you'd be livid. You'd have every right to be. I really should have called. Why aren't you angry?"

He was probably pushing his luck, but this restraint seemed so out of character that he had to understand its source. The Snape he remembered flew off the handle faster than most third years.

Snape held his gaze and answered, "If you train yourself to expect disappointment, you are rarely surprised by events."

"You thought I'd go back on our arrangement?" Harry asked, trying to understand.

"You might have come to your senses during the last two weeks and reconsidered. You could hardly be blamed for wanting a more conventional experience," Snape said.

Harry wondered if this kind of thing happened to Snape on a regular basis. Their feeding arrangement was unique in Snape's experience, so it could hardly be that which had instilled that 'expect disappointment' attitude. He thought that Snape's affliction had a lot to do with his misanthropic character, but Harry suspected that Snape's vampirism wasn't the sole cause of his antisocial behaviour.

Snape had told him that he'd been – how had he phrased it? – as ill favoured in appearance when young as he was now. People considered Snape ugly and unpleasant to be around. It was entirely possible that he had endured an unnaturally large amount of thoughtlessness and rejection in his life.

"I'd have let you know if that had happened," Harry said, holding that dark gaze so that Snape could read the truth in his eyes. "I wouldn't have just not shown up."

Snape nodded, giving a soft, "Yes, of course."

Although Snape agreed with him, he could tell that the other man wasn't entirely convinced. There wasn't really anything he could say that would change that. The only thing that would alter Snape's expectation of being disappointed was time.

That seemed to exhaust the conversation. It was painfully apparent that neither of them had a clue how to interact with each other.

So they stared at each other as the awkward silence grew between them.

He'd climaxed inside this man two weeks ago, Harry thought as his gaze scoured those inherently harsh features. There was hardly a single hour in the time they'd been apart that his thoughts hadn't flashed back to that amazingly erotic experience. For want of a more elegant term, he'd buggered Severus Snape. He couldn't help but wonder if Snape had thought about it as often as he had.

It seemed like it had meant something to Snape, that it had been more than the vampire allowing the human who had saved his life to screw him as payment for the blood he'd taken. But now that he saw Snape sitting there in his usual black robe, jacket, and trousers, all buttoned up and eminently untouchable, he couldn't help but doubt the veracity of his memories. It almost felt like it had never happened at all, that it was all just some feverish dream he'd had.

He heard Snape give a loud swallow before asking, "Have you eaten?"

Startled by the mundane question, he answered, "Yes. Sam and I wolfed down some sandwiches during the interrogation, but that was hours ago."

"Sam?" Snape enquired with a nonchalance so perfect it had to be faked.

"Sam Edgeware. He's the keeper on my quidditch team. We've worked together for years." He didn't know why it made him uncomfortable to discuss Sam with Snape, but it did, so he added, "We're just friends."

Maybe it was the way Snape was staring at him that was causing the discomfort. His instincts were telling him that Snape's feathers had been ruffled by the casual mention of his workmate, but Snape didn't betray it by either expression or tone as he said, "You needn't explain yourself to me."

"I know," Harry said. "I just wanted you to know."

"Oh." That seemed to disarm the other man. Snape was silent for a long moment and then he asked almost nervously, "Would you care for some dessert?"

"Er, sure. Thanks," he said.

"Please, be seated." Snape gestured off to their left. Harry was startled to see a small table for two set up to the side of the floo. He'd been so focused on his anxiety at being late and the physical shock of seeing Snape again that he hadn't even noticed the addition to the room's décor.

There was a tea set and three serving platters waiting on the tiny round table.

Harry slid into the chair on the far side, leaving the closer one for Snape. He wasn't sure how formal he should be, but in light of what they'd done the last time they were together, he figured Snape wouldn't be too upset with him if he took the liberty of pouring himself some tea while the other man was taking his seat. He knew that Snape didn't care to be stared at. The tea and treats had surprised him so much that he knew he'd be gaping at Snape if he didn't find something to occupy his attention.

So he poured them both a cup of tea and sloshed milk into Snape's until it was the same tan colour he remembered from his last two visits.

As Snape's hand moved towards the nearest tray to lift its lid, he couldn't help but wonder what kind of dessert Snape liked. He couldn't remember ever having seen Snape eat sweets at all, but then, how much time had he really spent looking at Snape until quite recently? When he'd been at school, he'd done everything in his power to avoid the man.

To his shock, the chocolate cake that had always been his favourite was revealed when Snape lifted the silver platter's lid. The second lid's removal revealed a dish of the fruit tarts that Ron and he used to gorge themselves on, while the third contained a custard concoction that Hermione had always loved.

The memories stabbed through him, reminding him of all that was and would never be again, but he managed to shake the pain off. Snape hadn't brought these things here to upset him.

"How did you know?" Harry asked, stunned by the thoughtful gesture. He couldn't imagine how Snape could possibly have known what desserts he and his friends had preferred. Surely, the man hadn't been watching him that closely all those years ago?

"I asked that house elf of Malfoy's that you used to be friendly with," Snape said, seeming somewhat nervous.

"Dobby?" Harry all but stammered. Snape had told Dobby he was visiting? Somehow, he'd thought Snape would want to keep the fact that they were socializing a deep, dark secret.

Snape nodded. "I trust my action wasn't inopportune or indelicate?"

Although Snape's voice was carefully schooled, Harry got the distinct impression that the man was anxious about his reaction, like maybe Snape believed that he might be the one who wanted to keep things secret or was ashamed to have anyone know they were associating.

"No, it's fine. It's . . . really thoughtful. Thank you," he said, as touched as he was surprised.

Since Snape still seemed highly self-conscious, he reached out, picked up a knife, and cut a very generous slice off the cake. After dumping it on his plate, he remembered his manners and asked, "Would you like some?"

Snape shook his head. "No, thank you."

"A fruit tart, then?" he asked.

Once again, Snape shook his head and politely declined.

"Don't tell me you're going to eat that custard monstrosity? It's sweeter than the cake!" he said.

"I don't take dessert," Snape said.

So the three trays of sweets were intended solely for his enjoyment? Trying to cover his shock, Harry took a bite of the cake. It was fully as delicious as he remembered.

"This is fantastic! Thank you," he said around a mostly empty mouth.

"You're welcome," Snape replied. A little of the stiffness seemed to leave his tight posture.

Harry tried not to feel uneasy as Snape watched him eat the cake. When the last bite disappeared, he reached out and took a raspberry tart off the next tray. He was pretty full, but he didn't want Snape to realize how excessive this gesture was. It meant a lot to him that this normally reclusive man would go to the trouble to find out what he liked to try to please him.

The fact that Snape would want to please him at all was a bit of a shock. Given his knowledge of the other man's character, he wouldn't have been surprised if Snape had insisted that the blood exchange occur as soon as he arrived and that the sex be dispensed with as soon as possible with as little actual physical contact and social interaction as could be managed. That was the type of impersonal scenario he'd envisioned when he'd suggested this arrangement to Snape, but this was . . . nice, much better than the kind of cold business arrangement he'd expected.

Remembering to swallow his food first, Harry asked, "May I ask you a personal question?" At Snape's nod, he continued, "If you expected to be disappointed, why did you arrange dessert for me?"

"There was always the possibility that I would be proven wrong. You are a Gryffindor, after all."

"I don't know whether I've just been complimented or insulted," he said with a laugh.

Amusement flashed through those inky dark eyes. "I suppose you'll have to consider the source and make your judgments from there."

"I don't know. You've never been shy about insulting me to my face," Harry pointed out. "I think it must have been a compliment."

"As I said, a complete Gryffindor," Snape said in a tone so dry and droll that it doubled Harry over with laughter.

When he could breathe again, Harry took a sip of his tea and asked, "So how have you been since I last saw you? How is school going this year?"

Snape didn't quite blink with surprise, but his question did seem to startle him.

The hidden reaction made him wonder how many people actually tried to make casual conversation with Snape. It wasn't as if Snape's character inspired the kind of normal, banal exchanges that were the basis of most relationships.

"I've been . . . well, thank you for enquiring," Snape replied far too formally, but his eyes seemed almost warm as he spoke. "As for how school is going, this year's crop of dunderheads has proven exceptionally trying."

"How so?" he asked, eyeing the custard tray and wondering if he really had to have a bit of everything to be polite.

"If you'd believe it, a pair of fifth years managed to get their faces stuck to a frozen telescope on the Astronomy Tower last Saturday night. In all the years I've been here, that was a first."

"What? Stuck magically?"

Snape shook his head. "Apparently, they were engaged in amorous activities up there and leaned against the telescope. The saliva on their cheeks adhered to the frozen metal."

"Ouch!" Harry said. "You must have scared them out of ten years growth when you caught them."

"Unbelievable as it may seem, they were actually relieved that I found them. They'd apparently been stuck up there for over two hours," Snape reported, then mildly reproved as Harry couldn't help but dissolve into laughter, "It's no joking matter. Both the fools had severe frostbite in their faces and hands. They'd been screaming for help, but no one could hear them over the wind."

"I'm sorry. It's just . . . I can't picture any truant students being happy to be caught by you. You used to scare the snot out of all of us," he said.

"Except you."

"I just hid it better. You were the bane of my existence back then," Harry offered.

"Was I? Thank you," Snape said.

"Just in case you were confused, that wasn't intended as a compliment," he said, grinning because he could see how delighted Snape was by his admission.

"I'm sure it will please you no end to learn that you were more trying to me than the Dark Lord," Snape said.

Harry felt his smile drop. "I never meant to be. It just seemed that from the very first, we misunderstood and mistrusted each other. I, er, hope that can change now."

"Perhaps it already has," Snape replied in a tentative tone. He seemed to force himself to hold Harry 's gaze for a moment, before lowering it to his tea.

Realizing how difficult it was for Snape to reach out on any level, Harry laid his hand on the black wool of Snape's sleeve. It was the first time he'd touched Snape tonight. The material under his fingers might be rough and hard, but the living warmth he could feel beneath it made his breath quicken and his heart pound.

The contact drew Snape's gaze back to his own. Before Harry even knew what he was doing, he was leaning across the small table to kiss the other man. He took hold of those slender shoulders to brace himself so that he didn't end up squashing the cake.

It was impossible, of course, but Snape's mouth really did taste sweeter to him than the chocolate cake had. Snape seemed to freeze up in surprise, as he had the last few times Harry had initiated this particular action. But after a moment, the slim lips under his opened and Snape's hand rose to ruffle through the hair at the back of Harry 's head. Their tongues tentatively touched each other, then Snape sucked his in, and their mouths kneaded hungrily against each other.

Even using Snape for support, he found himself wobbling. It took him a moment to recognize that his partner was swaying as well as their bodies drifted towards each other like a moon gravitating toward the planet it orbited. Though, who was the moon and who the planet was a little difficult to determine. They both seemed pretty caught up in the kiss.

As he lurched towards the cake, Harry forced himself to pull away from Snape's delectable mouth. The fact that the effects of the other man's saliva were making the room spin didn't really help steady him any.

Gasping, he looked over at Snape. The heat in those dark eyes startled him as much as it pleased him. He still couldn't believe that Snape actually wanted to touch him, that Snape wanted more than blood from him.

Harry tried not to remind himself that this man was so good an actor that he'd managed to fool the paranoid Voldemort for more than eight years. Snape could simply be humouring him, and Harry wanted the other man so badly that he was willing to let him.

On impulse, he sank down on his knees in front of Snape. Snape's robes were open as usual, revealing his primly buttoned jacket and the starched, white, high-necked shirt collar below it.

Harry laid his hands on Snape's knees and raised his eyes to search Snape's face.

Snape didn't look like he was faking it. Snape was watching him with that same sense of riveted incredulity he'd worn every time Harry voluntarily touched him.

Harry let his thumbs stroke over the seams of Snape's trousers, brushing over the sensitive inner thighs. He could tell how hard Snape was struggling to control himself, but even that light caress drew a hissing breath from him.

"Do you like that?" Harry whispered, trailing his fingers further inwards and up towards Snape's groin. He didn't look at what his hands were doing. He kept his gaze locked on Snape's face, trying to read him.

He could see how quickly Snape was breathing. The man Harry was fast beginning to consider his lover looked torn, like he was fighting himself.

After another minute of Harry's fingers trailing over his inner thighs, Snape swallowed hard and answered, "Yes, very much."

From his expression, it was plain Snape feared that the stimulation would stop as soon as he admitted to enjoying it.

The longer he was with this man, the more Harry realized that having no past at all to speak of was better than having a fucked up one that left you doubting every touch and act of kindness. Seeing how Snape anticipated betrayal, he couldn't help but appreciate how much courage it had taken for Snape to arrange for those desserts for him earlier.

Holding that gaze, he moved his hands by feel upwards.

Snape gasped as he put pressure on the impressively sized bulge moving under the zipper. He took hold of Snape's waistband and undid the button, then carefully eased the zipper down.

The placket at the front of Snape's underwear parted, and that wine red cock slid out. Harry took the moist length into his hand. Only then breaking his gaze, he lowered his head, opened his mouth wide, and swallowed Snape whole.

As he did so, Harry realized that he was going to have to make a conscious effort to stop thinking of the other man as 'Snape', especially when they were doing something this . . . intimate.

The strangled sound that came from above was sweet and erotic as the flavours that flooded him. Snape – no, he mentally corrected himself – Severus tasted of salt, something bitter, and that unexpected sweetness that seemed to burn a path of delight straight to Harry's groin.

As Harry began to suck that beautiful cock, Severus reached out to touch his hollowed cheek, his fingers stroking down to where Harry's mouth surrounded him. Even Severus' hands somehow managed to express his wonder that this was happening.

Harry couldn't really blame Severus for feeling that way. He couldn't believe he was doing this to Severus Snape, either. Even more, he couldn't believe just how much he was enjoying doing it.

Harry was better at the physical aspects of giving a successful blowjob this time. He didn't feel like gagging at all as Severus' bulk filled his throat. He'd barely gotten his fourth suck in when Severus released a tremendous groan and exploded into his mouth.

It occurred to him that Severus must have been hard for some time before they'd started kissing for him to come that quickly. Pleased by the discovery, Harry rested his check on Severus' trouser-covered thigh while the other man attempted to regulate his breathing. Severus' hand slipped into his hair to sift through the disorderly black tangle.

"Forgive me," Severus whispered.

That wasn't what he'd expected. He raised his head and asked, "What for?"

"That was . . . terribly fast," Severus said, his sallow cheeks turning a little red.

"Tasted great, though," he said, grinning up into that uneasy face.

A puzzled line creased the centre of Severus' high brow, between the black wings of his hair. "I never even touched you."

"The night's still young," Harry said.

"So it is," Severus agreed, his fingers still carding through Harry's hair as though he couldn't stop himself from touching him. "Would you care to move into the bedroom?"

Nodding, he rose to his feet.

This time undressing didn't seem as tense an experience for Severus as it had the last time they'd done this. Once again, Harry was done before Severus had even finished with his jacket buttons. Harry sat down on the bed to watch and wait. Severus wasn't facing away from him or hiding this time. To the contrary, the other man never took his eyes off him while disrobing, save for when Severus turned to hang up his clothing in the wardrobe.

The duvet was a Slytherin green this time, instead of the brown it had been two weeks ago.

"You changed the duvet. I like this colour," Harry said.

"It matches your eyes," Severus said as he approached the bed.

"Does it?" he looked down, then back at Severus.

Pausing beside where Harry sat on the edge of the four-poster bed, Severus gave an oddly solemn nod and said, "Your eyes turned that deep, vibrant colour when you came inside me last time."

Harry was surprised that Severus would think along those lines, let alone tell him about it. He'd wondered if Snape thought of him at all when they were apart; he supposed this answered his question. This was so different from how he'd envisioned their arrangement working out that he hardly knew how to respond. He could feel his cheeks warming as he looked back down at the bedclothes that Severus said were the colour of his eyes at climax.

"I've made you uncomfortable. My apologies," Severus said a little stiffly.

Harry looked back up. "Don't be. It was a nice thing to say."

"Which is why it so befuddled you," Severus' voice was heavy with irony as he sat down beside Harry on the bed's edge, close enough so that Harry could feel his body heat without there being any actual physical contact between their naked bodies. "I . . . don't know how to do this, Potter. My social interaction for the last thirty years has been job-related or confined to negotiating with prostitutes. I don't know where the lines are – what is and isn't appropriate in our . . . arrangement. You're going to have tell me when I overstep those boundaries."

"You didn't overstep any boundaries," Harry quickly assured. "I just . . . . "

"Yes?" Normally, that kind of question from Snape would have been rife with irritation, but tonight his voice sounded only encouraging, like Severus was really trying his hardest to understand what Harry wanted from him.

That Snape was trying at all was incredible.

Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to explain, "I guess I just never thought it would be like this."

"Like what?" Caution had entered Severus' attitude.

"I thought that since we disliked each other so much that you would just want to feed and get the sex part over with as fast as possible," he said.

"I see." Severus' caution gave way to a rebuffed distance. Harry could sense those invisible shields coming up between them, thick as Hogwarts' walls.

"No, I didn't mean it like that. That's what I expected it to be like, but it's not . . . cold like that at all. It's . . . fun."

"Oh," Severus said softly, a confused air overcoming his reserve.

"You surprised me, I guess," Harry admitted. Swallowing hard, he forced a smile and said, "I guess it wouldn't be any great shock to you if I were to confess that I didn't really think any of this through at the start."

"The only great shock is that you returned tonight," Severus said.

Harry gulped, his insides tightening as though a fist were closing around his heart. This scene was much heavier, much more intense than anything he'd ever imagined.

Harry took a deep breath at the enormity of the miscalculation he'd made. How could he have ever been so stupid as to believe that offering his blood to a desperate vampire who'd known nothing but contempt his whole life would give him a sexual relationship free of emotional commitment? Did he even have a brain in his head?

"Have I said too much?" Severus asked into the silence.

"No," Harry quickly assured. He might be too stupid to live when it came to his ability to judge the emotional pitfalls of a situation, but he wasn't idiot enough to jeopardize what he'd found here with Severus.

"If you would rather less social interaction – " Severus began, a bleak expression flashing across his face before he seemed to consciously blank it of emotion.

"No," he cut Severus off. "I want to know you better."

Then, before Severus could say anything else to twist his heart, Harry took the man into his arms and kissed him deeply.

Severus' hands gripped his shoulders as the older man lay back on the bed and guided him down on top of him, still locked in the kiss. It felt great, but Harry thought they should deal with the feeding issue before he lost himself totally in sensation. So, he shifted until he was on his side facing Severus.

Severus seemed to have determining the effect his saliva was having on a partner down to an exact science, for Harry was just beginning to feel his senses swirl when Severus pulled back for air.

He smiled at Severus and then slipped his hand around the back of the other man's head to guide Severus down towards his neck, whispering a soft, "Feed now."

Severus didn't need to be asked twice.

Harry was impressed as hell with his companion's control. He knew Severus had to be suffering hunger pains non-stop the entire time they were together, but for the most part, Severus never let his need show in word or deed. All three times they'd been together, including the first time when Severus had described himself as being in crisis, Severus had behaved with restraint and waited for Harry to invite him to feed.

He would have understood fully if Severus asked or pushed to get the feeding over with as soon as he arrived, given the state of Severus' prolonged hunger, but Severus never did. Harry couldn't help but admire that. Anymore than he could help but respond to the feel of that tongue lapping over the vein in his neck.

The pleasure was indescribable. It seeped down from his neck as a luscious warmth that made him somehow both lethargic and energized at the same time. The contrast of opposite sensations was in itself exciting. When the warmth hit his groin area, it transformed into an ineffable ecstasy. It was almost like that transcendental moment of a climax's apex was put on hold and suspended for the entire time Severus fed. Those wild and unbearably intense sensations rocked through him while Severus sucked the blood from him. By the time Snape's skilled tongue was licking the feeding site to desensitise the puncture holes, Harry was mindless with need.

Severus rolled over onto his stomach and spread his legs. Panting, Harry stared down at those lush, slightly rounded globes and the seemingly endless expanse of pale skin offered up to him, doing everything he could not to pop just from that provocative view.

As much as he wanted to simply roll on top of Severus and take what was so openly offered, his conscience wouldn't allow him to.

"You – you don't have to do that," Harry rasped out. His head was still reeling under the effects of Severus' vampire saliva. He could hardly think, let alone talk. "We can do something different."

Like watch him explode without a single touch, his frantic mind suggested. If something didn't happen in the way of relief soon, he was going to die from this need. His cock was throbbing so hard, it was actually painful.

Severus shifted onto his side, into a more comfortable position for conversation. His hand slipped under the pillow to withdraw the brown jar of lubricant oil Harry remembered from his last visit.

"I thought you enjoyed what we did last time," Severus said, holding out the jar to him.

"I did, but . . . you don't have to – "

Severus reached up with his free hand to stroke his fingers over Harry's cheek.

Even that gentle stimulation was enough to make his body leap with hope and rip a gasp out of him.

"I know I don't have to," Severus said in a tone that was nearly as soft as his expression. "I want to."

"You do?" He wondered if he sounded as big an idiot as he felt.

Severus seemed to hear his unvoiced 'why?', for he answered, "Penetration hasn't given me pleasure in so long that I'd forgotten what it could be like. What you did to me last time was . . . truly exquisite."

It wasn't fair that even when his brain had melted with lust, that this man could still twist his heart without trying.

"Please let me feel that again," Severus quietly requested.

There was no awareness of moving, Harry just suddenly found himself pushing Severus over onto his back and kissing him deep and long.

The by now familiar caution of, "Easy," sounded at just about the moment the room took a sudden plunge to the right and then reversed direction with equal force.

Severus pushed him off his mouth and slipped the bottle into his hand. Then Severus curled his knees up to his shoulders so that his bottom was exposed to him.

Nearly dazed, Harry fumbled the lid off, spilled half the bottle onto his right hand, and then slid his slick fingers between those pear-shaped mounds. Severus was so beautiful here . . . so incredibly tight and hot as his fingers slid up into that close-guarded aperture.

Working on autopilot, he pushed inwards until he found that rounded protrusion. Severus' whimper confirmed that he'd hit the right spot. The next few minutes were a blur of Severus' helpless outcries of pleasure and his own pain-filled grunts as he worked to hold out until he'd stretched that unbelievably tight channel enough to accommodate him.

Finally, Severus felt loose enough. Harry grabbed the jar again, dribbled most of what was left of the balsam-scented gel onto his cock, positioned himself at that tiny entrance, and then pushed home. That's what entering Severus felt like, like he'd finally, at long last, found his true home.

He angled himself and thrust so that he'd hit that special spot inside Severus. His companion's hoarse cry told him he was successful. Again and again, he worked that spot, until the world exploded with mind-blowing delight and he came, came, came, came deep inside Severus. In that moment, there was nothing in his world but Severus, and he never wanted that to change.

Life didn't get any better than what he was feeling right now. He'd never been as connected to anything as he was to Severus Snape at the moment. He never wanted the experience to end, and, for a time, it seemed it wouldn't, the delight seemed to go on forever.

Harry was only vaguely aware of Severus spraying his chest and face with his own sticky gift, and not at all aware when he blacked out seconds after climaxing.

*****

"Oooowwww . . . ." Harry moaned as raw agony ripped through him.

"Harry? Harry?" a familiar, worried voice called as though from very far away.

He forced his gummy eyelids apart. His first blurry impression was of red hair and freckles. "R-Ron?"

Was he dead? He knew Ron couldn't be here, so he must be dead, but he'd never thought that death would hurt like this. He felt like his body was on fire, burning from the inside out.

"No, Harry, it' Sam," the voice gently corrected.

Sam? His mind went down the list of Weasley brothers and couldn't find a Sam. So he asked, "Sam?"

At least, he thought he'd asked. It sounded more like a croak.

"Sam Edgeware," the voice answered, and then seemed to be talking to someone else, "What's wrong with his memory? I thought the curse hit his thigh?"

"It's the painkillers. Be grateful. It won't be long until they're no use anymore," an officious male voice answered, sounding very far away.

Harry couldn't quite concentrate enough to focus. Like that last voice had said; the pain kept distracting him.

"Harry, I'm so sorry . . . so sorry," that first, familiar voice said. It sounded as if Ron . . . no, as if Sam were crying. "It's all my fault!"

"W-hhhat?" Even that single syllable took an act of will to get out coherently.

"Mr. Edgeware, if you're going to upset my patient, I'm going to have to ask you to leave now," that official stranger's voice reprimanded.

Patient? Harry fuzzily realized that he must be in hospital.

Sam was here, so whatever had put him in hospital was probably work related. Forcing himself to think, he tried to remember. There'd been a case. A wizard who'd been casting Imperius on Muggle schoolgirls. Sam and he had gone to bring the rotter in, and everything had gone pear shaped. He remembered the green light of the Killing Curse heading for Sam. He remembered pushing Sam out of the way, because he'd known his own shields were strong enough to bounce even Avada Kedavra back on its caster, while Sam would have fallen. But before the bastard had gone down, he'd thrown a curse Harry had only read about in his DADA books, one that even Voldemort's forces hadn't dared, because there was too large a chance of it being reflected back on its initiator. Harry had been too busy dealing with the Unforgivable, so the second curse had hit him full force in his left thigh . . . which was now being slowly eaten away by one of the most malevolent spells known to Wizarddom.

The last time Harry had looked down at his thigh, he'd had a blood blister the size of a bronze knut, with a black centre half way between his knee and groin. The black centre had once been part of his thigh, but was now a liquefied, poisonous pulp that was slowly eating through the rest of his flesh. The process was well beyond agony, and Harry didn't even want to think about how soon the creeping crud would hit his groin. There was no cure. The bloody curse fed on magic, so the more powerful the wizard, the faster the spread. He was so screwed, it wasn't even funny.

The mediwizards had told him they could control the pain at the start, but that the potions wouldn't work long. The Orbita Acidus curse, more commonly known as the Acid Wheeler, was one of the foulest known to Wizarddom.

"How are you, Harry?" Sam's quaky voice called him back from his drifting ruminations.

Forcing himself to focus on that burry, tear-streaked face, he gritted out, "Wasn't your fault."

For some reason, that seemed to make Sam's tears flow harder.

Since his friend wasn't saying anything, he found himself floating away on those painkillers again. For what seemed a long time, he felt almost okay in a distanced kind of way, but then that throbbing in his thigh pulsed with red heat and he woke with a choked back sob.

"Harry?"

It was Sam's voice, but that wasn't the voice he wanted.

"Sev'rus?" Harry cried out as the pain flared again.

"Sev'rus? Who's Sev'rus?" Sam's confused sounding voice questioned.

That strange doctor's voice supplied, "The only Sev'rus I ever heard of was Severus Snape, Hogwarts' potions master. It can't be him that Mr. Potter is asking for, though."

"Why not?" Sam was sounding further away by the minute.

"Sev'rus?" Harry cried out as another wave of pain flared through him. He felt a hand close around his and give him a squeeze, but the fingers weren't long enough or cool enough for it to be Severus.

"We were in different houses, but I came up through Hogwarts two years behind Potter here. The shouting matches he used to have with Snape were legend. We used to take bets as to whether Potter would survive Snape's classes long enough for Voldemort to get him," the mediwizard explained.

"Harry?" Sam called. "Is it Severus Snape you're asking for?"

"Sev'rus . . . need Sev'rus . . . ." was all he could manage.

"He's doped to the eyeballs, Mr. Edgeware. I wouldn't put much stock in anything he says," the mediwizard advised.

"Er . . . how long . . . ?" Sam's shaky voice questioned.

"Two days, maybe three if he's really unlucky," the doctor answered in a soft tone.

"Damn, isn't there anything you people can do for him? You're supposed to be the best," Sam demanded, sounding either furious or scared.

"And so we are, but some things are beyond even our abilities to heal, Mr. Edgeware. Any magic used on this curse only accelerates its course and intensifies his pain. It's as lethal as Avada Kedavra, but nowhere near as clean."

Silence fell after that grim statement and there was only the ever-growing agony and the feel of Sam's sweaty palm squeezing his hand. Harry tried to find something to think about that would buffer the pain, and found his thought turning to Severus again. He had the horrible feeling that he was whining Severus' name out over and over again, like a mantra against the agony burning through him.

A bell rang sometime later and Sam's hand tightened around his.

A strident female voice, no doubt a mediwitch, said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Edgeware, visiting hours are over. I'm going to have to ask you to leave now."

"Can't I stay with him? The mediwizard said he didn't have much longer," Sam pleaded.

"I'm terribly sorry, but we have to try to allow him to get what rest and peace he can manage now," the woman said in a kind voice.

"What time can I come back, then?" Sam asked, sounding frightened.

"Tomorrow morning after ten," she replied.

"I'll be back, Harry. I promise. Hang in there, mate," Sam said.

He opened his eyes in time to see a pretty brunette in mediwitch's white robes and wimple taking Sam by the arm and guiding him through the door.

She returned a few moments later, lifted the blankets off his lap and undid the bandage on his thigh. Her plump, pretty face crinkled in distaste as she changed his dressing. After patting his blankets back in place, she took a small black vial out of her robe pocket, uncorked it, and lifted his head to dribble its contents into his open mouth.

It tasted horrible, but the fire eating through his flesh seemed to recede some once it hit his empty stomach.

"Th-thanks," he whispered.

"Try to rest now, Mr. Potter. I'll be in to check on you soon."

And then she left him alone in the room with his pain. The painkiller eventually kicked in and he drifted away for a while.

When he opened his eyes next time, Ron and Hermione were standing by his bed, staring down at him. They were wearing their Hogwarts' school robes and uniforms. They looked like they were still in sixth or seventh year.

His eyes feasted upon the sight of his long lost friends. He'd forgotten just how blazing Ron's red hair was, and how adorable Hermione's upturned nose was.

Wondering if they'd come to take him back with them, he reached out to touch them, but they seemed to grow foggier and dimmer as his hand neared them and then they vanished completely.

"No . . . come back . . . ." he begged, but the hospital room was empty. There was only him and the shadows.

The next time he managed something like coherency, Severus' spectre was standing where Ron and Hermione had been last time. He knew better than to reach out this time, lest Severus vanish as well.

"I came as soon as I heard," his ghostly visitor said in a subdued voice.

"Sev'rus?" he whispered.

Unlike his last imaginary visitors, Severus reached out to touch his cheek. His cool hand felt real.

"Your co-worker said it was the Orbita Acidus that hit you," Severus said, his voice keyed low, for all that there was a crazed wildness in his eyes that Harry could never remember seeing before.

Harry reached up to touch the soft wool of Severus' sleeve as he nodded. "Mediwiz said I've got two days."

"What painkillers are you on?" Severus asked, his hand rising to open Harry's eyelids further and peer into them.

"Don't know. Chart's down there at the foot of the bed," he grated out, and then had to ask, "Are you real?"

Severus was already down at his chart, leafing through the medical notes, but he looked up at that last comment and asked, "What?"

"Hermione and Ron were here before," Harry explained.

Severus was quiet for a moment before answering in a strangely gentle tone, "They've got you on Muggle opiates to minimize the exposure to magic. Hallucinations are a normal side effect and nothing to worry about."

"Wasn't worried," he said. "It was good to see them. They looked happy. But they wouldn't take me with them."

"It's not your time yet," Severus said in that same tender tone, returning to the side of his bed.

"Mediwiz said it's going to get bad . . . will you stay with me?" he tried not to sound too pathetic, but he really didn't want to be alone.

"That's not happening, either," Severus said firmly in his head of house voice that would brook no arguments. "May I examine you?"

"Sure," Harry nodded.

Severus must have found out where his injury was from the chart, for he lifted the blue blanket and white sheet off him, and then carefully undid the dressing the mediwitch had put on his left thigh earlier.

Harry stared down at the red pus ball. It wasn't knut sized anymore. The blood blister with its putrid black centre was now as big as the half pound coin Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had given him as a present that year.

"Thank, Merlin," Severus sighed. "It's still contained."

"How'd you find out?" Harry asked, looking up at Severus 's face as the other man leaned in closer to his rotting wound. "Am I in the Prophet again?"

Severus shook his head. "Your friend Sam firecalled me fifteen minutes ago to ask if we were acquainted. He told me what happened and that you were asking for me. I came as soon as possible."

"Thanks. I, er . . . wanted to see you before . . . well, before it got too bad. I wanted to say – "

"Potter, you can say anything you wish to me, but right now, we must work on this wound before it becomes too large to contain," Severus interrupted.

"There's no cure to Acid Wheelers," he reminded, biting his lip as the pain started to flare again.

"Do you trust me?" Severus asked with strange intensity.

Even drugged to the gills and half out of it with pain, Harry still thought it a ridiculous question for a man he'd offered his throat to every other week for the last two months to ask. "'course."

"Will you allow me to treat you? I must warn you, the cure will be quite painful for a short time. But once it's done, you should recover your full strength," Severus said.

"Are you talking about turning me?" It was the only thing he could think of, that Severus was offering to make him into a vampire to save him from dying.

Severus' shock was palpable, even to a man flying high on morphine. "Never. I'd kill you myself before I'd inflict this curse on you."

Harry hadn't thought Severus would do that, but he'd needed to be sure.

"Go ahead, then," he said.

That seemed to take Severus aback, "Don't you want to know what I'm going to do?"

He gave a negative shake of his head. "Doesn't matter. I trust you."

Severus withdrew his wand from his pocket and cast a silencing charm over the room and warded the door locked. "I took the liberty of mentally suggesting to your mediwitch that she'd already performed all her duties in caring for you, so we shouldn't be interrupted. Are you in great pain?"

"Some. It's not so bad," he denied.

"Which means you're probably undergoing the likes of the Cruciatus," Severus translated in a wry tone.

Severus took a seat beside his right elbow and then leaned down over him.

Surprised, he realized that Severus meant to kiss him. Groggy and high as he was, it was all he could do to lift his mouth to Severus'. Severus' fingers rose to Harry's chin as they kissed, took hold of it, and carefully tugged it downwards so that Harry's mouth was open as wide as it would go.

Severus didn't simply kiss him then. Severus' tongue actively transferred saliva from his mouth to Harry's. Normally, such a thing would have probably made him gag, but he was so out of it, and so thirsty that he just sucked in Severus' spit as fast as it was given to him.

As soon as the first bit of vampire saliva crossed his lips, Harry's already fuzzy world began to spin. But the throbbing at his thigh seemed to let up enormously as that warm tingle spread through him.

It was a long time before Severus pulled back. When he was through with his mouth, Severus climbed onto the bed and curled around Harry's lower body the way he might to give head. But instead of sucking his cock in, Severus' tongue began to carefully lave the area where the Acid Wheeler blister was, covering the angry red and black wound with copious amounts of his saliva.

Severus' tongue hurt like hell as it moved delicately across the blistered area. Harry bit his lower lip to keep in his moan. But in a few moments, the saliva sank into the blister and it didn't hurt as much. That was, until Severus' incisors pierced the puffy, tortured flesh.

Harry couldn't hold back his scream at that. It felt like salt had been added to the acid wound. The subsequent sucking was sheer agony.

He couldn't help it; his hands leapt to Severus' hair and he tugged at it with all his might to pull Severus off his wound, but Severus just gripped his hips with his vampire strength, held on, and kept sucking.

Harry screamed his throat raw, and no one came – because the room was under a silencing charm. And still Severus continued with that horrific sucking. It felt like it went on for hours.

Long after Harry's screams had subsided to sobbing whimpers, Severus finally lifted his head. Severus left a bloody hank of long black hair clutched between each of Harry's fists.

Terrified of what he'd see, Harry stared down at the Acid Wheeler blister. It wasn't a huge, puffy mess anymore. The blister had deflated completely. The black centre, which would have grown to consume his entire body, was gone, as was the blood coloured liquid surrounding it.

Severus had sucked the poison of the curse out of him, he dazedly realized. No human or wizard could have done it without dying from the juice of the Acid Wheeler, but a vampire might be able to survive it.

He watched as Severus stared almost frantically around him with a strange expression on his pale face. Then Severus lurched towards the hospital table to grab hold of the bedpan. Severus pulled it to him, and promptly vomited into the shiny metal receptacle. The charmed bedpan vanished the vomit as soon as it hit.

When Severus was done, he took a shaky breath, reached for Harry's water jug, rinsed his mouth out, and then spat into the bedpan again.

Panting in pained breaths, Harry watched wide-eyed as Severus withdrew a scalpel from his robes.

Harry didn't even bother trying to beg as that knife moved towards his thigh. He was hit with the sudden, chilling understanding of just how efficient a Death Eater Severus must have been as his lover calmly carved the skin off the now empty blister.

When it was done, Harry was trembling all over. He'd been injured enough in his life to recognize when he was going into shock. He barely had the strength to whimper as Severus' head lowered again.

Severus' tongue returned to the wound, bathing it in his saliva again. It hurt almost as badly as it had the first time; only, as Severus continued, the pain seemed to diminish. A familiar, longed for warmth slowly spread through Harry, easing his agony, dispelling the quakes.

Severus seemed to lick the wound for what felt like hours, and with every brush of his tongue over that tormented flesh, Harry felt better.

He was dozing when Severus pulled back from his thigh and sat up again.

He had no idea where his glasses were. Blinking at the fuzzy image that was Severus, he watched as Severus replaced his bandages and bundled the blankets back down over him.

He really couldn't see clearly enough to be sure, but it almost seemed as though Severus were avoiding meeting his gaze. Harry reached out to take hold of the hand that was smoothing down his blankets, only to discover that Severus was shaking as badly as he'd been when he'd finished emptying the poison from the blister.

He wasn't high on the Muggle drugs anymore, or on the vampire saliva, but he was so drained from the stressful cure that he could barely think straight. Nonetheless, it struck him how horrible doing this must have been for Severus.

It also occurred to him what a terrible chance Severus was taking by visiting him at all here. They had no way of knowing if the new vampire detectors were being utilized at St. Mungo's. Severus could have been captured as soon as he'd arrived. His lover had to have been aware of that – and he'd still come. To perform a task that could very well have caused Harry to hate him, even as it saved his life.

Little wonder, Severus was trembling, he realized.

"Thank you," he whispered, squeezing Severus' hand.

Those dark eyes hesitated and then met his gaze.

"There was no way to do it without the pain," Severus explained in a rough and ragged voice that sounded as though he'd been the one screaming for the last hour or so.

Harry gave Severus' hand a tug, and, to his surprise, the other man allowed himself to be pulled down onto the bed beside him. Severus curled around him on the edge with one arm banding his chest. After a moment, that dark head tentatively lowered to Harry's chest.

Severus didn't say anything. He just seemed to be breathing in Harry's scent as he lay there.

Feeling stronger by the minute as breath after breath passed without a reappearance of that throb at his thigh, Harry asked, "How did you know the Acid Wheeler's poison wouldn't kill you?"

Severus might be a vampire, but he was still mortal, after a fashion. He was just harder to kill than most wizards.

"I didn't," Severus replied. "It was the only thing I could think of. How do you feel?"

How did he feel? The man had just sucked a poison out of him that would have given Severus a horrible death had his guess proven wrong. But he knew better than to mention that. Severus would only become self-conscious if he did. Trying to keep his drooping eyes open, Harry smiled and said, "Better. How are you?"

Severus lifted his head and seemed to study Harry's face for a long moment before answering, "Better now. I had best be leaving soon. I charmed the mediwitch, but the mediwizard could be back."

"Severus?" he called frantically as the other man made to rise from the bed.

"Yes?" Severus was paused on his elbow in the process of rising.

Harry reached up to slip his hand around to cup the back of Severus' skull and draw him down into a kiss. It lasted longer than either of them seemed to anticipate. His senses were reeling drunkenly when Severus finally withdrew.

"Thank you," Harry said.

"You are most welcome, Harry Potter," Severus replied. "Don't work any magic on that wound tonight. If they offer you more morphine, take it."

He nodded. "Okay."

"Tomorrow morning, try a light healing charm on the affected area. It should heal up before noon," Severus told him.

"All right. They're probably going to want to keep me a while to study me. I'm supposed to be a goner," Harry grinned.

"I'm sure they will. Be your normal irritating self and I'm certain you'll be out by tomorrow night," Severus actually joked. His lips weren't smiling, but his dark eyes seemed less crazed than they'd been earlier.

"Either way, I'll be free in plenty of time for Friday. I'll see you then."

"Only if you're up to it," Severus warned.

"I'm up to it now," he said with a grin, though a jaw-cracking yawn belied his claim.

"Hopeless Gryffindor," Severus said with a shake of his head. Then he startled him by leaning back down to give him yet another kiss, which also lasted longer than he thought Severus intended it to.

Finally, Severus pulled back and rolled from the bed, with a resolved sounding, "Good night, Potter."

Severus walked towards the door in a determined stalk, as though the man didn't trust himself to linger longer.

A strange warmth unfurling through him, he whispered "Good night," to Severus' back as his lover slipped out into the hospital corridor.

The silence wards and security lock were still up, Harry realized. With a shake of his head, he removed them with a thought, and then sank back down into the bed. He held his breath, waiting to see if his use of magic would make his thigh throb again, but aside from the soreness of where Severus had cut the skin away, it felt okay. Turning slightly on his side to touch the warm spot where Severus had been mere moments ago, he was asleep before he even realized his eyes were closed.

*****

Harry's half-healed wound was revealed the next morning when the mediwitch came in to change the dressings on it, and his cure was heralded as a miracle. It seemed like the entire hospital had come down to gape at it.

Sam had shown up in the middle of all the medical brouhaha, so it wasn't a totally stressful event. It was worth all the fuss just to see the relief and joy on his exhausted friend's face. A short time later, Minerva and Hagrid had stopped by, bearing chocolate frogs and Hagrid's homemade, inedible cookies. The Daily Prophet's headlines had proclaimed: Boy Who Lived Lives Again!. All day long he'd had a gruelling parade of co-workers and acquaintances coming through to congratulate him on his miraculous recovery. However, the one face he wanted to see most of all didn't appear.

He hadn't really expected that Severus would risk coming back, but he'd hoped he would.

It certainly would have made visits like his present one a little easier to deal with. Fatigued by the amount of socializing he'd had to do today, Harry forced a smile and tried to concentrate on what his boss was saying.

". . . can't tell you how overjoyed we all are by your recovery," Chief Parker said. He was wearing his official, red Auror robes with the silver supervisor's epaulets and looked very out of place in the flower and candy crowded hospital room.

"Thank you, sir," he replied. Harry had always thought that the dignified, tall, grey haired Parker was the perfect choice for head of the Dark Arts Unit. The man was steady as a rock and inspired confidence by his very appearance.

"I know you're not feeling up to snuff just yet, but I wondered if you could clear a few things up for me, Harry?" Parker asked.

"If I can, sir," he answered, shifting to a sitting position in the bed.

"I was going over Sam's report on how you were injured," Parker said.

"Yes?"

"Edgeware swears that neither you nor he cast an Unforgivable, but Forensics tells me that the man they examined, one Filby Dorance, died from the Killing Curse."

"Sam told the truth. We didn't cast it. Dorance threw Avada Kedavra at Sam. I pushed Sam out of the way and blocked it. Dorance cast the Acid Wheeler while I was deflecting the Killing Curse. He got hit with his own Killing Curse when it bounced off my shields."

"Are you claiming that you can block Avada Kedavra?" Parker questioned, understandably sceptical, as anyone would be when told that one of his subordinates could survive a curse that was normally 100% lethal.

"Yes, sir. I had to learn to withstand a lot of intense attacks when I was training to face Voldemort."

Parker's next words reminded Harry why the man had gotten his job. His intellect was as sharp as that scalpel Severus had used on him last night.

"The reason these curses are called Unforgivables is because they can't be blocked," Parker reminded.

"I know that. But what can I say? I survived the Killing Curse when I was a baby, and I've always been able to block it when it's thrown against me," Harry said. He hated the very idea that his boss would think he would lie to him about how their prisoner had died.

"Just like Voldemort. That's why the blighter was so hard to bring down. He couldn't be stopped by normal means," Parker said. "And now it seems that you're immune to the Orbita Acidus curse as well."

"What are you suggesting, sir?" Harry asked as a chill shivered down his spine at the direction Parker's thoughts were obviously heading. He couldn't correct Parker's misconception about his immunity to the Acid Wheeler without incriminating Severus. All day long, he'd been insisting that he didn't know how he'd recovered from the lethal curse. Since he was the Boy Who Lived, no one had questioned the miracle too closely. Most people seemed to expect the impossible from Harry Potter. But Colin Parker wasn't 'most people'. He was the man charged with the responsibility of protecting the world from the misuse of the Dark Arts. Harry could see how anyone who was impervious to some of the most lethal curses known would be a concern to Parker. It might be a Muggle maxim, but Harry knew that most wizards believed that absolute power corrupted absolutely. Anything unstoppable was a potential threat to society.

"It's just strange; that's all," Parker said, his honest blue eyes searching Harry's face.

"I can't help the level of power I was born with. I'm not a dark lord, sir. I have no interest in ruling the world," he assured.

To his intense relief, Parker's gaze gentled. "I know that, Harry. I didn't mean to insinuate anything of the kind. I just have to explain to my superiors how a suspect ended up dead from an Unforgivable that both my agents swear they never cast. There are bound to be questions, and I need to have my answers ready."

"Yes, of course," Harry said.

"Do you have everything you need?" Parker solicitously enquired, clearly looking for a way to change the uncomfortable topic.

"Yes, thanks. Sam's brought half of Honeydukes to me, and my other visitors brought the rest," he joked.

"It doesn't look as though they've left a single flower, either," Parker said, staring around at the vases, standing arrangements, and live plants crowding every available surface in the small hospital room.

"You're probably right," Harry replied.

"Well, you look like you could use some rest. I'll see you next Monday, if you're feeling up to it," Parker said, rising to his feet. "Take care of yourself, Harry."

"Thank you, sir," he answered, watching as his boss left the room.

Everything had turned out well, but Harry couldn't help but be concerned about the questions Parker had raised. He'd survived this long by hiding his abilities from others. He knew Colin Parker was a good man; but for better or worse, his boss was never going to look at him the same. He'd be watched more closely from this point on. He was careful, but his job constantly put him in situations where he had to expose the level of his powers to defend himself. Eventually, his true abilities would be publicly revealed. He thought the Boy Who Lived publicity was hard now, but he knew it would be nothing compared to the hell his life would become once the public was actively afraid of him. Providing they let him keep his life – there were no givens in the Wizarding World.

Reaching out for one of the chocolate frogs Minerva had left for him, Harry wondered if it were time for him to take her up on that job offer.

*****

It seemed to take forever for Friday to arrive, and even longer for the day to pass so that he could go visit Severus. His flat had never felt so empty.

His thigh had healed up completely. There wasn't even a scar. He was fit and beyond eager to see his lover.

As he impatiently waited for those final hours to pass, Harry found himself wishing that things were a little different. After what Severus had done for him Tuesday night, he'd hoped that maybe Severus would have come to visit to check up on him or even owled to see how he was doing, but there had been no word at all from Severus.

Harry knew it was childish and unreasonable, for they didn't have that kind of relationship, but . . . it hurt that Severus hadn't tried to contact him since he'd had saved his life.

Well, it was what it was. And it was more than he'd ever had before. That was what he had to concentrate on, Harry told himself as he checked his image one more time in the mirror before heading for the floo.

He didn't know why he cared so much about looking good when he went to see Severus, but he did. He supposed it was only natural to want to impress the person you were . . . well, they weren't really dating, but he supposed the term seeing each other would apply.

The royal blue silk shirt and tight jeans he'd chosen to wear tonight accentuated his musculature well, he decided. He pulled his black leather jacket on top of it rather than his normal black wizards robes because every time he wore the leather jacket, Severus gaze would run down his body in what seemed to be a helpless reaction.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the hearth and hurtled to Hogwarts' dungeons along the nauseating floo network.

He stepped out into Severus' comfortable sitting room with a smile on his face.

"Hello," Harry greeted as he caught sight of Severus in his usual chair.

The jacket worked. As Harry removed it to shake off the inevitable floo soot and hang it over a chair back, Severus' gaze trailed down him before the other man seemed to force his eyes back up to Harry's face.

The expression in that dark gaze gave Harry pause. Severus was a lot paler than usual. There were dark circles under his eyes, and an emotion far beyond simple nervousness or uneasiness within them.

"Are you okay?" Harry questioned, crossing immediately to Severus' chair. He laid his hand on Severus' shoulder, feeling the tension there. On impulse, he leaned forward to plant a soft kiss on Severus' brow.

They didn't usually kiss this soon after his arrival. They would normally talk for a while before there was actual physical contact between them. Even after two months Severus still seemed self-conscious about initiating sexual relations.

"Severus?" he questioned, truly becoming alarmed as the other man stared up at him as though he'd never seen him before. "What's wrong?"

Severus seemed to shake himself into answering, or, rather, evading, "Nothing is wrong."

Harry stroked Severus' too pale cheek and whispered, "I'm not blind. Something's bothering you."

Severus drew a shaky breath. "I suppose I wasn't certain if I'd see you tonight." He swallowed and added in a low, reluctant tone, "Or ever again."

"What?" Harry asked before his better sense caught up with him. Of course, Severus would be feeling ambivalent after what he'd been forced to do to save his life.

"My actions on Tuesday night caused you tremendous pain," Severus said.

"Those actions are the only reason I'm still breathing, the only reason I didn't die a gruesome, agonizing death. I told you I'd be here," Harry reminded. "Remember?"

Severus nodded. "Yes. However, you were high on narcotics at that time, as well as under the influence of my saliva."

"You worry too much," he said, resting his bum on the arm of the wingback chair so that he could take Severus into his arms.

Severus' hands slid around him, those long fingers lacing over each other behind his neck.

Rather than kissing him, Severus rested his head against his chest, seeming to just breathe in his scent as Severus had done in the hospital on Tuesday before leaving. A strangely protective warmth swept through him as he realized how much his lover seemed to like holding him. It wasn't something he would have ever expected. Severus was just so reserved and remote most of the time, but in some ways, Severus seemed as starved for touch and affection as he was.

Sensing how Severus must have been eating himself up over what grim necessity had forced him to do, Harry stroked Severus' oily hair and held him tight.

It was a long time before Severus' arms loosened from around his neck.

Deciding that he liked the proximity, Harry slid from the arm of the chair onto Severus' lap. They both grunted as he landed. He put his knees over the arm of the wingback chair and turned to face Severus so that they could see each other's faces while they talked.

"This okay?" Harry checked, wondering if his sarcastic lover would point out that he wasn't a piece of furniture. But the tired-looking Severus simply nodded. Trying to dispel Severus' subdued air, he softly asked as he fiddled with one of the cloth-covered buttons on Severus' jacket, "How was your week?"

"Long," Severus answered, tentatively laying his hand in the centre of Harry's back.

"School stuff or – "

"Or," Severus cut him off, as though that were an answer.

"I promised you a long time ago that I wouldn't just stop coming," Harry reminded, guessing at the source of Severus' concerns.

"I know."

He let go of the button to stroke his fingertips over Severus' brow. His lover looked so . . . subdued. "You look so tired."

"I haven't been sleeping," Severus said softly.

"Because you were worrying about whether I'd return?" he asked, feeling terrible. He realized that he probably should have made contact with Severus himself, if only to thank his lover. He'd been so damn worried about trespassing on Severus' private life that he'd left the man suffering these horrible doubts for three days.

"That was part of it," Severus replied.

"What was the rest?"

He could tell that Severus really didn't want to answer him, but after a moment of staring into his eyes, Severus hesitantly offered, "Every time I managed some sleep, I'd hear you screaming as I sucked the poison out of you. It was too reminiscent of my Death Eater days."

This was the first reference Harry could recall Severus making to his experiences as a Death Eater. Even now, Severus was watching him as though he expected him to jump off his lap in revulsion and run for the floo.

Harry didn't know whether he should acknowledge what felt like a landmark testament to Severus' growing trust in him or simply carry on as normal. Knowing how much Severus hated any hint of weakness in himself, Harry decided to try the latter course. Reaching up to stroke Severus' smooth cheek, he softly apologized, "I'm sorry. I know that must have been awful for you. I tried to hold it in, but . . . ."

"You were in agony," Severus countered.

"And if you hadn't intervened, I would have been begging you to kill me in a few more hours. What you did was . . . very brave. You could have died," he told Severus.

"My kind are hard to kill," Severus said, as though that made what he'd done less meaningful.

"But not hard to hurt," Harry softly crooned. "I wish I'd had the brains to talk to you earlier in the week. It might have spared you a few sleepless nights."

"It's no matter," Severus dismissed. His yellow-tinted, long fingered hand rose to cover a yawn.

Realizing that Severus was having difficulty keeping his eyes open, he softly suggested, "Let's go inside and get comfortable, shall we?"

Severus gave a weary nod.

Climbing carefully off his lover's lap, he offered Severus a hand up. To his surprise, Severus allowed him to help him.

Keeping hold of that slightly cool hand, he led the way to Severus' bedroom. The duvet was a cream colour this week with tan and rust piping through it, he noted. Severus' rotation of his duvets was becoming one of his favourite things, Harry realized.

Seeing how Severus was fumbling with the buttons on his jacket, he stepped up to him and gently took over the unbuttoning. "Let me?"

Severus permitted it, as he permitted almost anything he asked of him, Harry fondly recognized. He stripped Severus with quick efficiency, carefully hanging up each piece of clothing in the wardrobe when it was removed, just like Severus always did. When his lover was naked, Harry vanished his own clothes with a thought.

Severus reached out to touch Harry's bare shoulder. "That's quite a skill you've got. I didn't even see your lips move."

Harry shrugged. "It's about the only thing I dare use wordless magic on. Does it bother you?"

Many wizards were disturbed by the demonstration of his unnaturally strong abilities. Wandless magic made people uncomfortable enough, but wordless magic was in a realm all its own. It took immense power to do even the simplest of charms or spells without using either wand or word, and because it involved the spontaneous manifestation of will, it completely unnerved most people.

With the possible exception of Severus Snape, who shook his head to indicate that he wasn't bothered by Harry's display.

Harry peeled back the duvet and they climbed into the bed together.

Severus leaned in to kiss him as soon as they were facing each other on the same pillow. Harry kissed back, feeling that lovely warmth from Severus' saliva spread through him.

They parted as soon as the room began to swirl.

The muscles of Severus' face rippled in a very odd manner as they withdrew from the kiss. It took Harry a moment to realize that his lover was suppressing another yawn. His gaze took in the purplish bags under Severus' eyes, and he was reminded anew of his lover's exhaustion.

Normally, they'd spend a good half hour at foreplay before they would move to the feeding portion of the evening, but Severus looked so done in that Harry didn't have the heart to force the man to wait that long. So, he slipped his hand around the back of Severus' head to cradle his skull as he guided Severus' mouth down to his neck.

Severus froze as he seemed to realize what Harry was suggesting. "We haven't – "

"We can do that later. Feed now," Harry whispered. "Please?"

Starving vampires really didn't have much in the way of restraint when blood was on offer, Harry realized. He could see Severus' unwillingness to rush things in his eyes, but the man simply seemed too tired to argue the issue.

Severus allowed himself to be guided to Harry's throat.

The velvet roughness of Severus' tongue touched the tender skin there, and within seconds, that arousing warmth was sinking through Harry's flesh, bubbling through his blood, and rushing straight to his groin.

That titillating heat turned to incandescent flames as Severus' fangs penetrated the desensitised skin at his throat. Harry moaned as his cock pulsed with desire, seemingly in exact harmony with the rhythm of Severus' sucking. Once again, he floated in that erotic web that felt like an endless climax.

Finally, Severus stopped feeding and his tongue began the familiar parting lapping.

As Severus worked to ease the sensitivity of the puncture points, Harry took his lover's hand and wrapped it around his cock. Severus' fingers gave what almost felt like a surprised squeeze at finding themselves in possession of that hungry flesh.

The instant that sweet pressure closed around him, Harry sprayed them both with his seed as he toppled into ecstasy.

He was fighting the blackout that normally followed Severus feeding when he heard Severus' confused voice whisper, "Why . . . ?"

"You're tired. Come here," he said, reaching out with one hand to pull the duvet over them while snuggling onto Severus' chest.

Harry was proud of himself. Tonight he was actually aware of his cheek settling on that warm, smooth chest before he lost consciousness.

*****

A week later, Harry was miserable, and he had no idea what to do about it.

Their fortnightly feeding arrangement wasn't really working for him anymore. He knew it was his own fault. He'd been an idiot from the outset. His initial presumption that it would be safe to see Severus because there was no way he could become emotionally attached to the potions master had fallen by the wayside weeks ago – possibly even on their first night together. Despite his best efforts, he cared very deeply about Severus. In fact, Severus was probably his closest friend at this point.

He couldn't understand how he could possibly have been so stupid as to believe that he could have sex with Severus without there being any emotional involvement. He'd known the man for nearly twenty years. In retrospect, he recognized that he'd been involved and concerned about Severus from the moment he'd seen his former teacher in that MoM holding cell.

The only person he'd been fooling was himself, and perhaps Severus, who was always uneasy about his desirability.

He'd been so careful not to give his changing feelings away, to strictly honour the terms of their arrangement. Initially, it had all been so gloriously simple and wonderful. He'd floo to Severus' quarters every other Friday after detentions ended, and they'd spend the night exploring how much delight their bodies could endure. He'd leave Severus the next morning with a kiss, and they wouldn't see or hear from each other for another two weeks.

But everything felt different now. Every time he was with Severus, he pushed harder and harder to get behind the man's guards – and Severus let him. There wasn't any safe emotional distance anymore. Harry couldn't even fool himself about it these days, not when he found himself missing Severus mere hours after he'd leave the man.

Last Friday had brought home the truth. He hadn't cared about having sex. All he'd wanted was to make sure Severus got his blood and then to hold the exhausted vampire while he slept. Well, Severus had ended up holding him while he slept after blacking out, but it was pretty much the same thing. The bottom line was that this wasn't about just getting laid anymore – if it ever had been.

He tried to be strong, to hold out and stick to the terms of their arrangement, but by the following Friday, the one he was not scheduled to meet with Severus, he was utterly dejected. Two nights of companionship a month simply weren't enough. He needed more.

It crossed his mind that he wasn't an inexperienced bungler anymore. He could go out and spend the night with someone he picked up in a pub. Only, he didn't want some stranger. He wanted Severus.

The only problem was, that he didn't know if Severus wanted him. Although Severus shamelessly indulged his every whim whenever they were together, he had never given Harry any indication that he found anything lacking in their arrangement. Harry knew his lover was older than him, and didn't necessarily have the same kinds of needs, either emotional or physical. Severus was an inveterate loner with a very rigid routine. Their existing arrangement suited Severus fine, for it met his blood needs with a minimum of fuss. Severus mightn't want him intruding any further into his life and free time.

Harry knew that even suggesting a change in their arrangement could be viewed as a violation of trust. As much as he wanted to be with Severus, he didn't want the man to feel compelled. He just . . . wanted.

He agonized for a full week over the morality of asking Severus for more this far into their arrangement. He knew he'd been lucky so far. When he'd suggested this arrangement, he'd expected Severus to be his snarky bastard self every time he went to visit him, but Severus had surprised him. Although his sarcasm was still sharp enough to slice silk, it was rarely aimed at Harry anymore. They didn't fight or bicker over every little thing, like he'd expected. To the contrary, they talked about almost everything in between the rounds of teeth-rattling sex.

Harry was torn. Severus seemed to genuinely enjoy the nights they spent together. But that didn't necessarily mean that Severus wanted to extend their time together.

Well, there was only one way to find out, he decided.

Dreadfully nervous, he fire-called Severus that Friday morning before leaving for work.

The familiar sitting room seemed empty, as he called out, "Severus?"

Severus came hurrying out of the bathroom. Just the sight of that pale skinned chest peeking out of his lover's green robe made him want to tumble out of the floo and take the man in his arms.

Severus was visibly surprised by the interruption, but instead of getting snarky with him, all Severus gave was a tight sounding, "Are you all right?" as he knelt down in front of the hearth to speak to him.

Those dark eyes were scouring him as though searching for an injury. Recognizing how he'd alarmed his lover, Harry felt like an utter fool. "I'm sorry. There's nothing wrong. I just . . . I know we're not scheduled to meet until next week, but . . . do you have plans tonight? If not . . . could I see you?"

He didn't know what type of response he'd anticipated, but the instant softening of those stern features startled him. Severus' voice was almost as gentle as his expression as he answered, "Yes, of course, you may. Shall I expect you at your usual time?"

He almost blacked out under the relief. "Yes, and, Severus . . . ?"

"Yes?"

Bewitched by the tenderness in Severus' expression, he leaned out of the hearth, took hold of those slender shoulders and drew Severus into a kiss. Neither one of them seemed inclined to end it, but he was finally forced to withdraw when Severus' saliva got to him and the room began to sway.

"Thank you." He grinned, and pulled back into the hearth.

Severus was waiting for him when he got there that night, as usual. The only difference was that Severus wasn't sitting there drinking his tea.

When Harry stepped out of the floo, he found his lover sorting through a box of parchment rolls so old that they looked like they might have had hieroglyphs on them.

"Hi!" he greeted.

Severus looked up at him and gave him the small, shy smile that he wore only with him. In all the years he'd known this man, he'd never seen Severus smile like that at anyone else, with genuine emotion. In the past, Severus' smiles were usually malicious or forced.

"Hello. Get yourself a drink, if you want," Severus instructed.

As he moved to the drinks table, Harry asked, "What is that stuff?"

"Another Dark Arts collection I purchased in an estate sale," Severus absently replied as he scanned the long dusty parchment in his hands.

"You're searching for a cure in all of these?" he looked at the scores of parchments surrounding Severus' chair. "There're dozens of them. It will take years to sort through that mess."

"That room over there," Severus gestured towards the door beside the bathroom, the one Harry had never been in, "is filled with boxes just like this. You'd be surprised how quickly you can learn to distinguish the promising documents from the rubbish."

"Any of those promising?" Harry asked, staring at the heaps of ancient parchment.

"It depends. If you desire to have a demon guarding your bed while you sleep, this one might be of use. So far there is nothing relating to my condition."

"Can you do that?" he asked, sitting down in his usual chair. "Have a demon guard your bed?"

"Of course not," Severus said a little snappishly. "How do you think these papers ended up in an estate? The idiot who wrote this dribble of a spell was killed by a demon in his sleep."

Harry laughed and sipped his drink, watching while Severus read through another parchment. "Am I interrupting you?"

"No, not really," Severus replied.

"Thank you for letting me come tonight," he softly acknowledged.

Severus looked over from the yellowed sheet in his hands. "You are always welcome here, Potter."

The quietly voiced words warmed him. "Thank you. That . . . means a lot to me."

Those dark eyes held his for a long moment before finally turning back to the paper. Seemingly absorbed in what he was reading, Severus commented, "I must admit to some surprise. I thought you would be occupied with your friends tonight."

"No, no plans tonight," he said, feeling like he was twelve and Snape had just caught him out in the halls after curfew.

They might be lovers now, but Severus was obviously still as good at sniffing out his evasions and lies as he'd been as his teacher. That gaze returned to his face and searched his features. "I know it is none of my business, but I wondered what you do to occupy your time when you're not here?"

His throat tightening, he answered as evenly as possible, "I play quidditch with the guys at work on Sunday afternoons. We're pretty good, for an amateur team, that is."

He was about to invite Severus down to watch them some time when he remembered that Severus might be recognized by his co-workers as the vampire he had purportedly killed in the holding cells back in January.

"That accounts for Sundays. What else do you do?"

This was the first time Severus had really ever asked him anything about his private life. Although he would prefer not to speak about the sorry state of his social life, he didn't want to discourage Severus. "Er, you know, the usual. Out for drinks with Sam and some of my other co-workers occasionally. I've got a telly at my flat. I watch that once in a while. It might shock you, but sometimes I even read a book in the evenings."

"It seems the seven years you spent here weren't entirely wasted, then," Severus said in a lightly teasing lilt. But that piercing gaze still didn't leave him. "I only ask because . . . well, you talk about the job a lot when we're together, but I never hear you speak of your friends. I imagine you see those reprobate Weasley twins and your former housemates regularly."

The direct question derailed him. He was willing to offer evasions to vague inquiries, but he wasn't comfortable telling Severus an outright lie, even though he'd prefer almost anything to confessing the truth. "Er, no, not really. I meet with Minerva and Hagrid for dinner every few weeks, but I hardly ever see anyone else from the old days."

Severus lowered the parchment in his hands to the pile on the end table and turned to face him. "Who are your friends, then?"

Harry looked down at the drink in his hands. His knuckles were gripping it so tightly they'd turned white. If he weren't careful, he'd break the glass. Forcing himself to relax, he said as casually as he could manage, "I mostly go it alone these days."

He could see how hard Severus was trying to keep his face neutral, but emotion flashed quickly through those dark eyes. Finally, Severus said in a cautious tone, "That seems . . . out of character for you. You were always surrounded by your friends at school."

"My friends are dead!" Harry didn't quite shout. That familiar, agonizing loss flaring through him, he found himself slamming down his drink onto the nearby end table. Unable to sit still under that perceptive stare, he jumped to his feet and moved to stand in front of the hearth, staring down unseeingly into its flames as he tried to get a grip on his runaway emotions.

He expected Severus to give him his distance and privacy. The man was hardly ever intrusive when it came to emotional issues. But a strong hand gripped his shoulder, putting pressure on it to turn him around. It was either go with the flow or end up in a ridiculous scuffle. Almost angry, he allowed himself to be turned to face Severus.

"My friends are dead," he repeated in a lower, shaky tone.

The man Harry had thought he'd known would no doubt have had a scathing rebuke for him that after twelve years, it was long past time that he pulled himself together. He knew how messed up he was. He knew how wrong it was that the only real human contact he had in his life was with a vampire with whom he'd made a feeding arrangement.

But Severus didn't yell at him or admonish him for being self-indulgent. What Severus did was step closer and wrap him tightly in his arms.

He buried his face in Severus' shirtfront, breathed in the sweet, familiar scent, and listened to Severus' heart beat below his cheek. He was shaking all over, feeling as though his grief might explode out of him and further humiliate him. Only, Severus wasn't acting as though this were something to be embarrassed about. He was just holding him and stroking his back.

It was almost as if that silent support were the final straw. To his horror, Harry felt the scalding liquid leak out of his eyes. Knowing that Severus would smell the tears, he pushed his face deeper into the crisp white cotton of his lover's starched shirt.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, trying to get a hold of himself.

"Sssssh," Severus soothed. "It is you who are owed the apology. I should not have pried so casually. Our arrangement doesn't give me the right to trespass into your personal life."

Pulling in a shuddery breath, he lifted his face to meet Severus' eyes. His lover's emotions were always difficult to read, but he could sense how worried Severus was, probably about having overstepped the boundaries of their agreement. "You are my personal life. You're the only good thing I've ever had."

That dark gaze warmed with a fond light. "That's kind of you to say, but, surely, you exaggerate."

Knowing that it was time to come clean, he held Severus' gaze and quietly offered, "No, it's the truth. I haven't let anyone close to me since . . . since Ron and Hermione died. And before that . . . " He took a deep breath and continued, "I fell in love with Ronald Weasley when I was eleven years old. He fell in love with Hermione when we were fourteen. I never . . . well, Ron never knew how I felt, and after he was gone . . . I couldn't feel anything. Until the night you accepted my proposal for our arrangement. That was when I . . . started feeling alive again."

Raw panic swept through Harry when he realized how much he'd revealed. Severus mightn't welcome this kind of emotional complication in his feeding arrangement. How could he have been so stupid as to actually say that out loud?

He stepped free of Severus' arms. He was almost able to touch the other man's shock. He looked down and quickly said, "I'm sorry. I know you probably don't want to hear – " He broke off as Severus' right hand gripped his chin to turn his gaze back up to that intense face.

"Potter, you took an experience that was nothing but humiliation and degradation for me and replaced it with sensual delight and laughter. There is nothing you could tell me of a personal nature that I would not take an interest in."

"Oh," Harry said, thrown even further off balance.

Severus seemed to read him the way he would a potion brewing in his cauldron. He slipped an arm around Harry's shoulder, and said, "Come, let's sit down and be comfortable."

Severus led him over to the couch instead of back to his isolated chair.

That strong arm still banding his shoulder, Harry took a deep breath and relaxed against the warmth at his side.

After what felt like a very long time, Severus tentatively asked, "When you said that you let no one close to you since . . . the final battle, were you speaking figuratively or – "

"Literally," Harry answered, feeling his cheeks warm. "You were my first real lover. I'd messed around a little in school. You know, the usual wanking sessions . . . and Ron let me suck him off once . . . but nothing major. It was all just kids' stuff, until you."

Severus stiffened beside him. "That is something you should have let me know. I could have inadvertently hurt you if my inclinations had taken us in another direction. Why would you withhold such information?"

He turned to meet Severus' gaze. "Truth? At first I was afraid you'd laugh at me. I mean, it isn't something I was exactly proud of. I know how pathetic it sounds."

Severus was quiet for a moment before he softly said, "Given the nature of our interaction during your school days, I can understand why . . . you might have been reluctant to confide such personal information to me at first. But . . . haven't we moved beyond such . . . mistrust now? Do you really believe that I would mock you – after all you've done to help me?"

Realizing that he'd hurt Severus' feelings, he quickly attempted to explain, "I know you wouldn't make fun of me now. I just . . . I was afraid of messing up what we had by . . . being too sentimental. I . . . I'm still not even sure if you consider me your friend. Do you? I mean, I know you saved my life last week, but . . . ."

Harry held his breath, because Severus' answer was going to set the tone for the rest of their relationship.

"This may sound melodramatic, but I consider you the only brightness that has ever graced my miserable existence. If you call that friendship, then, yes, I consider you my friend, Harry Potter."

He gulped. That sounded like Severus viewed him as a lot more than simply a friend. But since he could see how nervous Severus was at openly admitting even that much, he didn't press the issue.

"That's good, then, right? That we both . . . care?" he asked.

Severus nodded, still watching him as though he expected something dreadful to happen now that he'd voiced his feelings.

He leaned forward and kissed Severus' lips. Severus still seemed overwhelmed by their conversation, but the familiar sparks their hungry mouths incited in each other appeared to calm his nerves, at least enough for him to actively return the kiss.

When they parted for air and to allow the room to stop spinning around him, Harry hesitantly questioned, "Can I spend the weekend? You can say no. I won't be upset."

That wasn't entirely true, but he'd do his best to be adult about it.

The fingertips of both Severus' hands stroked over Harry's face in a very endearing manner. "Stay the weekend. Stay the year, if you like."

His heart reeling the way his equilibrium normally would after a long kiss, he grinned and lowered his head for more. When they parted for breath, Harry gently said, "You could feed tonight. I'd like that."

Severus froze in his arms. "Absolutely not."

"Why not? I don't mind," Harry said, needing Severus to understand how much he enjoyed the experience.

"I . . . appreciate the offer, but I will not risk your health that way. Severe blood loss twice a month is a sufficient strain to even the healthiest person, and you're still recovering from the Acid Wheeler," Severus said.

"I'm fine. And the blood loss is no big deal. Your restorative potion makes me feel better right away," he protested, wanting to give Severus what he needed. "I know how . . . you're hurting all the time. I want to make that better for you."

Severus was silent a moment, then he hesitantly offered, "Nothing can make it better, Potter. But I do appreciate the offer."

Severus' fingers reached out to stroke over his throat where he normally fed, causing a shudder of anticipation.

"Please?" Harry whispered.

"Don't ask that of me. I will do anything else you want, but not that," Severus gently refused, something desperate in his eyes.

Realizing how much Severus was fighting against his own body, he opened his mouth to make another plea; only Severus cut him off.

"It isn't simply for your sake that I refrain. If I feed more frequently, my appearance will alter."

"In what way?" Harry asked.

"If I fed every week, I would probably look very much as I do after you've shared your blood with me," Severus explained.

"You look fantastic after you've fed," he said, still not seeing where this was a problem. "What could be bad about that?"

"If someone you worked with showed up one day looking twenty years younger, wouldn't you be curious? Especially if the changes were so consistent that they couldn't possibly be attributed to a vanity glamour. I have enough in my past to make me suspect as it stands without risking that kind of attention."

"Oh," Harry said and checked, "That doesn't mean we can't make love, though, right?"

A gentle light entering his gaze, Severus softly said, "There's nothing to prevent us from doing that."

"No, nothing at all. Come here," he urged, pulling Severus on top of him.

For the first time in memory, Harry felt truly wanted.

*****

Something wasn't right. The awareness woke Harry. His body was tense, ready for battle. His power crackled around him, prepared to take on whatever danger had roused him from deep sleep. Before he even opened his eyes, he was conscious of two things – his location and the sense of danger. The scent of sex on the bedclothes told him he was in Severus' room and his self-preservation instincts told him that he was being watched.

He opened his eyes and turned towards the source of all his uneasiness, ready for anything, except the sight of Severus lying naked beside him, with his hair a wreck from the sex, his face lined with pain, and his dark eyes burning with need. There was a feral quality to Severus' expression that he'd never seen before, and more open hunger than Severus had let show on the first night he'd come to visit him in his quarters when Severus hadn't fed for nearly three weeks.

For the first time since he'd entered into this bizarre relationship, Harry felt s frisson of true fear shiver down his spine. Severus had never looked at him like this before. The iron control that characterized Severus was completely absent at the moment. All he could see in his lover's face was the raw, animal need of a starving beast.

This was a non-feeding week. He'd come to hate those, for Severus was always snappish and out of sorts. Well, more so than usual. But he had never been quite like this before, never been frightening.

Harry swallowed loudly, and tried not to give into his fear as those ravenous black eyes tracked the movement of his Adam's apple like a panther watching its prey. He couldn't find any intelligence at all in Severus' gaze, just that agonizing hunger.

It was that un-concealable pain that allowed him to get a handle on his incipient panic. Severus was hurting, bad.

He was so used to Severus being a vampire now that he often forgot that this was an affliction. To him, it was just part of Severus. The vampire's powers were simply an exciting perk to their sex life. His lover had such ruthless control over himself that it allowed him to forget that to Severus, his vampirism was an excruciating ordeal of self-denial every moment of every day.

Harry couldn't imagine what it must be like to need blood, to experience hunger cramps for it, and have a lover sleeping beside you in whom you could feel and smell that blood you were aching for moving.

Nearly three full minutes of that tense staring passed before Severus seemed to realize that he was awake; even then, there was nearly no change in the ravenous gaze.

"Hello," Harry whispered and reached out to take hold of Severus' hand. The muscles in his lover's hand were clenched tight as stone. "I'm here. You're not alone and you don't have to suffer."

He drew that stiff appendage to his neck and laid it flat against the spot where Severus usually fed.

He heard Severus' gasp. Those long fingers curled around his throat, pressing down as though to feel the life pulsing there below the skin. The pressure hurt.

Severus' pale, dry lips parted as if to say something, but no sound emerged.

Another shudder passed through Harry when he saw the pearly tips of Severus' fangs peeking out on either side of his mouth. He normally never saw them, for they only emerged after Severus had been licking his neck for five or ten minutes, when Severus was highly aroused and about to feed.

He suddenly remembered something Severus had said the first night he'd seen those teeth, some correlation to their lengthening that had to do with hunting and adrenaline.

Severus stared down at him for what felt like an eternity, his need so raw that Harry wondered if Severus would have the sense to stop before draining him. But he didn't pull out from under that now painfully clutching hand at his throat, nor did he withdraw his offer.

He could feel Severus' muscles quivering beside him.

Those dark lashed eyelids swept down as Severus squeezed his eyes shut. Then, quite abruptly, Severus ripped his hand away and rolled out of the bed.

Severus stood there with his naked back to the bed, breathing deeply for a time. Then he reached out for his wand and flicked it over himself. Familiar black wool covered all that lovely pale skin. With a dramatic billow of his robes, Severus stalked from the room.

He heard the front door to Severus' quarters slam shut a heartbeat later.

A breath he hadn't been aware of holding whooshed out of him. He wasn't sure whether he should be relieved or disappointed. But his body felt like he'd just been pulled back from the edge of a cliff he'd been wobbling on and about to plunge to his death. Damn.

He hated that Severus was hurting. He hated it even more that Severus wouldn't allow him to help him. Aching for his friend, he reached out to hold Severus' pillow close to him. Breathing in the comforting scent, he closed his eyes to await his lover's return.

By the time dawn had come and gone, there was still no sign of Severus.

Sighing, he pulled himself out of the bed, performed a quick cleansing spell on himself. After dressing, he hurried out of the potion master's dungeon quarters. He stuck his head in the potions lab, wondering if Severus might have involved himself in an experiment to pass the time, but the room was empty.

As it was barely seven on a Saturday morning, he passed no students in the halls as he made his way up to the Great Hall. He peeked through its open doors. There were perhaps ten students in the entire hall and only Minerva was up at the teachers' table.

Withdrawing, he headed out Hogwarts' main entrance. It was a bitter cold March morning, with winds howling out of the north and the occasional splatter of rain pelting down from the slate coloured clouds above.

Not knowing where his lover would go, his feet took him down towards the lake. He was passing Hagrid's hut when a startled, deep voice gruffly greeted, "Harry?" from its steps.

He turned to see the dark bearded half-giant standing in his open door in his brown vest, green peasant shirt, and brown trousers that always made Hagrid look like an oak tree. "Hello, Hagrid."

As ever, Hagrid's cheerful face made him smile.

"Ah, it's good to see yeh, Harry. What're yeh doing here? Is everything all right? Yeh're not in trouble, are yeh?" Hagrid's dark, beady eyes scanned the area, seeming ready to take on any enemy that might have chased Harry to his doorstep.

"No, I'm fine."

"Not that I'm not happy to see yeh, but what're yeh doing here at Hogwarts?" Hagrid asked, ambling over to join him.

At a loss, Harry smiled up at this good-natured man who had been his first true friend. He had no idea what he should say. Deciding that the truth was always the best line to take, he softly said, "I, er, well, I'm here visiting with Professor Snape."

"Professor Snape?" Hagrid questioned with understandable confusion. "You're not sick, are yeh?"

Realizing that the only reason any of Severus' former students probably had to visit him was to procure a potion, Harry shook his head. "No. I'm fine. Strange as it may sound, the professor and I have become . . .friends lately."

Hagrid's round face collapsed into a thousand smile lines as he grinned. "Have yeh now? I'm glad to hear it. The professor can certainly use a friend or two, and if yeh don't mind me saying, so could you."

Harry laughed. "Have you seen him this morning?"

The amused glint left Hagrid's eyes. His face becoming very serious, Hagrid said, "Sometimes when he can't sleep, he goes into the forest. Yeh might try looking where it meets the lake. I sometimes see Professor Snape there of a morning. Harry . . . how well do yeh know the professor? I mean . . . ."

Hagrid's words stumbled to an awkward halt. Harry was shocked to see in his friend's eyes what Hagrid was trying so hard not to say.

"You know about him, don't you?" Harry asked in a low voice. If anyone could recognize a dark creature, it would be Hagrid.

Hagrid gave a solemn nod. The wind pulled at his beard and wild hair, making the curly length whip around his face. "He never told me, but . . . I seen him, er . . . hunting in the forest. We never spoke of it, but he knows I know. I'm kinda surprised he'd'uv told yeh, though."

Harry looked at this man whom he'd known for so many years and wondered what to say. He remembered Hagrid finding him one evening by the lake when he was sixteen and miserable, feeling like a pervert for wanting his best friend. It was Hagrid who'd told him that love was love, and that it could never be wrong to care about someone.

Taking a deep breath, Harry softly offered, "Professor Snape and I are a bit more than friends."

"You and Severus Snape? Really?"

"Yes." He smiled up at his stunned friend.

Hagrid shocked him back by grinning and giving him a pat on the back that just about knocked him off his feet as the giant declared, "That's wonderful! I'm glad fer yeh both."

"Thanks, Hagrid."

"Well, I'd best be on my way to the stables. I've got a new surprise fer the students. Yeh should drop by later 'nd have a look. But let me know when yeh're coming so that I can introduce yeh proper. Bring Professor Snape with yeh, if yeh like."

Appreciating Hagrid's effort to show his support of his rather unusual relationship, he nodded and smiled, "I'll see what he says. Bye, Hagrid."

"Bye, Harry. I'll see yeh later."

Cheered by the encounter, Harry took the lake path to the northern side, where the forest met the water. The wind was even fiercer as it blew in off the lake, making his face sting and pushing his glasses into his skin until the bridge of his nose hurt.

He followed the lake trail. Down here the bank shifted in direction. The path he followed wove in and out of the woods for several miles, winding eastwards until the tall trees blocked his view of the distant castle. The enormous conifers cracked and groaned around him under the high winds. It was an eerie accompaniment to his already worried thoughts.

But Hagrid proved right. Severus was down there. He could see his lover's tall form silhouetted against the weak sunrise as Severus stood on a large boulder that the wind-blown waves were splashing onto. Severus' robes were flapping madly behind him, his longish hair whipping around his head. Against the grey sky, the vampire was a dark and brooding figure.

Looking at the lonely form, it seemed to him that Severus was trapped between two worlds, neither of them welcoming. The savage and dark forest loomed at his back, the equally dangerous and unforgiving lake in front of him.

Harry climbed carefully out onto the flat-topped, slippery rock and came to stand at Severus' side.

Severus didn't react to his arrival. But he didn't leave, which had to count for something.

Harry stared over at Severus' harsh featured face. The wind was tossing his lover's long black hair in and out of his eyes. Its unrelenting force had also put some colour into Severus' cheeks. The windblown skin made him wonder just how long Severus had been standing out here.

The feral air that had clung to Severus earlier was gone. Harry couldn't help but wonder what Severus had fed upon. The idea of him hunting in the Forbidden Forest as Hagrid had described sent a chill right through him. There were creatures far more dangerous than vampires that haunted those forbidden woods.

But whatever the cause, his lover's characteristic tight control was back. More than simply controlled, Severus looked almost petrified, in the literal and emotional sense. It almost seemed as though Severus were standing there with his muscles locked in dread.

Not knowing what to say to breach the chasm that seemed to have opened up between them, Harry stood silent for a while. Finally, he softly asked, "Would it be easier on you if I didn't spend the night?"

"It would be safer for you if you didn't." Severus' voice sounded gruff and almost hoarse, like he'd screamed it raw.

"That isn't what I meant," Harry denied.

"I could smell your fear," Severus said in a dead tone.

"I'd just woken up from a deep sleep. You startled me. That's all. I'd never seen you like that before. What happened?"

Severus watched the waves crash against their rock for a while before answering with, "The hunger cramps hit me when I was asleep. My controls are always weakest then."

"Does that happen often?" Harry asked softly, moving closer to Severus' faint warmth on the freezing, wet rock.

Severus' robes were drenched from the flung spray, he realized. Without voice or wand, Harry performed a quick drying and warming spell on them and then added a water repelling charm for good measure.

Severus' gaze didn't so much as flick his way, but some of the tension left his face. Still much too subdued, Severus answered, "Once or twice a week. It probably would be wise if you didn't spend the entire night in the future – that is, if you plan on returning at all. Not returning would, of course, be the wisest course of action for you."

A few weeks ago he would have interpreted Severus' words as a brush off, but he could almost feel how upset Severus was by what had happened. He knew it was only concern for his own safety motivating Severus. "You said I was always welcome here."

"You saw the monster I was last night," Severus hissed, finally turning his head to look at him.

The agony and self-hate in those bottomless eyes made him want to scream in rage. It wasn't right that Severus should have to suffer this way.

"I saw your pain," Harry softly corrected.

"And I smelt your fear."

He sighed. "Yes, you did."

"Then why would you want to stay? You know what I could do were I to lose control."

"Yes, I know what you could do. Last night proved that you won't do it," Harry argued, reaching out to clasp Severus' hand in his own. Severus' flesh was so cold, it felt like he was holding onto a corpse. Nevertheless, he twined his fingers with those long, yellow-tinged ones and held on tight. He lifted his left hand to gently push the wind-flung hair clear of Severus' eyes, his fingers lingering to stroke the wind-burned face. "Look, I didn't expect this to be easy, all right? You're a vampire. I mightn't be able to conceive of the pressures that you're under, but I sure as hell can tell when you're suffering. Yes, it can be scary when you're fighting for control, but I'm willing to risk it."

"I'm not. If I were to hurt you . . . or worse . . . ."

"You won't," Harry insisted.

"How can you be so damn certain?" Severus demanded.

"Because I know you. Look at you now – you're all torn up because your controls slipped enough to let me see how much you're hurting. Severus, you were going to lock yourself in a tomb to slowly starve to death rather than endanger anyone the night I first came to visit you here. I know you'd die before you'd hurt me."

"But last night – "

"Nothing happened last night. Nothing. Your controls weakened, but they didn't slip," Harry said.

"Because I left."

"So you left? How is that wrong? You knew you were going to have problems dealing with your hunger if you stayed close to me, so you took yourself somewhere else and fed. You safely controlled your problem."

"And it doesn't bother you that your lover was out in the forest half the night sucking the blood out of fluffy little bunnies?" Severus demanded.

"I had rabbit stew for dinner three nights ago. I don't see the difference. Secondly, my lover doesn't have to suck the blood out of fluffy little bunnies if it offends his sensibilities. He has an open invitation to my throat."

The breath seemed to whoosh out of Severus' lungs.

Sensing how emotionally off balance Severus was, Harry slipped his arms around the taller man's waist and pulled him close. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably closer to several seconds, Severus relaxed into the embrace and he felt those long-fingered hands twine behind his neck. Severus' face burrowed into the crook of his neck, clinging to him as though he were his last hold on life.

He gently rubbed Severus' slender back.

They stood there on that windy, cold rock, locked in that embrace for a very long time. Finally, Severus drew a shuddery breath and stepped back.

"Thank you," Severus said simply, his tired gaze communicating so much more.

"There's nothing to thank me for," Harry softly denied. "Come on. Let's get out of this wind."

They climbed down from Severus' perch. Side by side, they started down the narrow path. His right arm kept bumping against Severus' left. After a few of those chance brushes, Severus' arm slipped across Harry's shoulders and his lover gave a tentative, "Does this make you uncomfortable?"

In reply, he curled his own arm around Severus' narrow waist, gave an encouraging squeeze, and grinned up at the worried man. They hadn't really been outside of Severus' rooms together since their arrangement started. They were virtually alone and isolated in the wilderness at the moment, but there was always the chance that someone might be walking the path, despite the inclement weather. That his very private and proper lover would reach for him this way in public warmed him. And not just figuratively; Severus was a great wind blocker.

Recalling something that he probably should tell Severus about, he said, "Er, speaking of making people uncomfortable, how upset would you be if someone were to know about us being lovers?"

"I suppose that would depend on whom that someone was. This isn't a rhetorical question, I take it?" Severus asked with some of his normal spirit.

"No. I met Hagrid on the way out. We got to talking and I, er, told him that we were lovers. I probably should have checked with you first. I'm sorry," Harry softly apologized, expecting Severus to carve him into tiny pieces for his carelessness.

"There's no need to apologize. Hagrid has proven himself a man of great discretion over the years. A surprising trait in someone fundamentally incapable of lying," Severus said.

"How long has he known about you?" Harry asked.

"Since the first year I taught here at Hogwarts. He saw me in the woods one night in a compromising situation which would allow me no chance of denying my nature."

"You mean he caught you feeding," he translated.

Severus nodded. "I didn't know what to expect, but the only thing Hagrid ever said about it was the "Begging yeh pardon, sir," that he said when he stumbled upon me. He never mentioned it again. How did you find out he knew about me?"

Severus sounded curious rather than alarmed.

"He asked me how well I knew you. I could tell by his inflection and expression that he knew what you were."

"Ah."

"So, are we all right?" Harry asked after a few quiet minutes of almost cuddling Severus as they walked over the frost-hardened trail arm in arm.

"In what respect?" Severus questioned.

"In the 'am I still welcome to spend the night' respect," Harry explained.

"You are always welcome," Severus repeated the sentiment he'd voiced before.

"Thank you," he whispered into the howling wind.

The arm banding his shoulders tightened, indicating that Severus' vampire-enhanced hearing had picked up his words. "No, Harry Potter, thank you – for everything."

"This is getting maudlin," he chuckled.

"Then perhaps we should move on to less stressful topics," Severus suggested.

"Like the fact that when we turn that next bend, we're going to be visible from the school's towers?" he quipped, expecting Severus' arm to release him like a hot potato.

The sturdy, comforting weight across his shoulders never budged.

Severus snorted. "The only people who will be out on the towers in this wind will be amorous students. After thirty years of teaching, I can assure you that they wouldn't notice us unless we fell on top of them from out of the sky. And even then they mightn't notice if we failed to break their embrace."

Harry chuckled and then warned, "There could be kids out by the lake. If they see us like this, it'll be around the school before lunch."

Severus paused in the path. "Does the idea of having our names linked thus trouble you?"

Harry knew that tone now. It was Severus' trying to play it cool, but deeply wounded voice.

"No," he said. "I don't mind people knowing. I thought you might."

"I mightn't have ever had one before, but I am entitled to a private life," Severus replied.

"All right then. Here we go."

He could tell by the sudden tension in his lover's body as they turned that final bend and came into sight of the castle that Severus was as nervous as he was. He gave Severus' waist another encouraging squeeze, caught his gaze, and smiled.

Although the fact that they didn't encounter so much as a house ghost on their way back to the dungeons was anticlimactic in the extreme, Harry nevertheless felt as though some type of declaration had been made. The world mightn't be aware of it, but he and Severus were, and that was all that mattered.

*****

Harry was sitting at his desk at work on a Tuesday evening more than two months later, a few minutes into an arrest report when Sam commented from the desk across from his, "Did you hear about the vampire they caught in front of Slug & Jiggers Apothecary? The shop was testing one of those new automatic vampire detectors for the Ministry. The blighter walked right in, bold as you please. The petrify net worked like a charm. It stunned him instantly. All we had to do was go collect him."

His quill dropped out of his hand, splattering ink all over the parchment of his report and about a dozen other official documents on his desk, but Harry didn't even notice. His blood freezing in his veins, he looked over at Sam and asked, "Who was it?"

He didn't think Severus would visit Diagon Alley after the warning he'd given him, but that had been nearly five months ago. Severus might have thought the chance of his being recognized after all this time small enough to risk a fast trip to the famous apothecary shop.

"Don’t know. Bastard wouldn't give his name," the redhead said, turning the page of the Daily Prophet.

"Where is he? Down in the holding cells?" Harry tried to keep his voice normal, tried to hide the terror gripping his guts.

"No, the Disposal Unit took him upstairs a while ago. Harry? Harry?"

He could hear Sam's voice ringing behind him as he ran for all that he was worth for the stairs.

The building's Anti-Apparation wards prevented him from apparating, so he had to get there on his own devices. Unless he wanted to force the issue and break through the wards. He was fairly certain he could do so, but the security breach would set off several dozen security alarms. If Severus were being held prisoner, he might need the element of surprise to get them out of the building. He used a speed charm to increase his pace, but even so, it seemed to take forever to reach the Vampire Disposal Unit on the thirteenth floor.

His heart was pounding against his chest like a captured dove's wings as he skidded to a halt outside the oak doored division. Taking a deep breath, he cut off the speed charm and entered the room with as much decorum as he could in his state of heightened terror.

Harry had no idea what he was going to do if Severus were the vampire they'd captured. There was no way his co-workers could release a vampire into his custody the way the laws stood.

"Potter," the small-boned brunet, Aly Fillum, said as he looked up from the papers on his desk, "what can I do for you?"

Calm, be calm, Harry told himself, holding his wand in a death grip in his robe pocket. "I, er, heard you captured a vampire today."

"Yes. If you're here to watch the disposal, you're about twenty minutes too late. All that's left of that bugger is a bagful of ash."

An icy fist squeezed his heart. It was followed by a wave of red hot, blinding hate. Horror and fury washed over him, vying with each other for dominion. Harry could feel his magic pulsing through him the way it used to when he was eleven or twelve and hadn't gotten control of his powers yet. It was demanding that he strike out against this smirking fool and avenge his lover. Barely able to contain the power or resist the impulse, he rasped out, "Did you ID him yet?"

The smirk dropped from Fillum's round face. The dark haired Auror was clearly aware of the magic swirling around them like lethal whirlwinds. Fillum's brown eyes were watching him closely now, recognizing the danger he was in, if not its cause. "Er, no. His wand's down in the tracking department. They say it'll be about three hours before they get an ID. Is everything all right, Potter?"

Three hours. He wouldn't last that long. "What did the vampire look like, Aly?"

"Tall, dark, dangerous. He was the typical stereotype. You barely needed the detector to tell what he was."

The words tall, dark, and dangerous could have been coined for Severus. His initial panic muted to something sharp inside him, a cold dread that sliced into his bleeding heart as easily as Severus' teeth would sink into his throat.

"Potter, are you all right?" Fillum's voice called him back from the borderland of that dark place he'd gone after Ron and Hermione passed on. He knew if Severus were lost, he'd never make it back this time.

"Are you all right, Harry?" Fillum asked again.

Recognizing that some response was called for, Harry gave a tight nod, said, "Thanks," and left.

He stumbled to the nearest floo. There was only one way he was going to find out.

His stomach was so knotted that he barely even noticed the nauseating floo trip.

When he stepped out of the hearth, Severus' sitting room was dark around him. He lit the wall sconce with a thought, and stared around the eerily silent chamber. An open book sat propped over the arm of Severus' favourite chair. There were also a couple of dozen large boxes in the sitting room that hadn't been here when he left Sunday morning for quidditch practice, probably another Dark Arts collection from an estate sale, he thought. But there was no sign of Severus himself.

He tried to tell the voice howling inside him that the darkened room didn't mean anything ominous, but that same sick sense of dread was gripping him that he'd felt when he'd looked over to where Ron and Hermione had been standing in the final battle with Voldemort's forces and he'd seen his best friends' still forms lying on the ground just inside Hogwarts gates.

Knowing that those kinds of thoughts were going to lead him to madness, he pulled back from the past and tried to concentrate on the present, without filtering it through the shadows of his numerous losses.

Okay, Severus wasn't here. He told himself that that didn't necessarily mean his lover was lying in a bag up in the Vampire Disposal Unit. Think. Where else would Severus be at seven forty on a Tuesday evening?

The obvious answer was slow in coming. Harry was just too upset to think straight, but then he finally remembered the event that Severus always scheduled their weekly encounters to follow – detention.

He was racing out the door to Severus' quarters like a first year late on his first day of class before he'd even made up his mind to move.

The Potions Lab was down at the far end of the hall. He passed a couple of students in Slytherin house colours, who gave strange looks to the red-robed Auror racing through the dungeon, but no one tried to detain him.

He skidded to a halt outside the lab, burst through the door, fully expecting an empty classroom, and froze at the familiar glare that met his gaze. His knees nearly went out from under him at the relief that rushed through him. Alive. Severus was alive.

Harry could only gape at where Severus sat at his desk with a pile of bloody looking papers in front of him. He watched Severus' anger give way to puzzlement as he recognized who had interrupted his detention.

The four hapless students chopping what looked like toad hearts all stared agog in open shock at the red-robed Auror who'd interrupted their detention.

Severus' gaze flickered from him to his students. Then the Potions Master said, "That's enough for tonight. You're dismissed." As his stunned students started to put away the mess on their worktables, Severus snapped. "Just leave everything where it is and get out. Now."

The four wide-eyed students gathered up their things and hurried towards the door.

As they passed Harry 's frozen figure there, he heard the blond Gryffindor boy whisper to a dark haired Ravenclaw girl, "My God, it's Harry Potter! Do you think he's come to arrest the greasy bastard?"

"We should be so lucky," she whispered back.

He looked over to Severus, whose vampire enhanced senses allowed him to detect things most human would miss. He could tell Severus had overheard the students' exchange, but Severus merely shook his head as the students left, as though the comments weren't worthy of remarking upon.

Once the students were gone, Severus rose to his feet, staring at him in barely masked concern, "What's happened?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out.

Severus crossed the room to him.

It was all he could do not to fling himself at his lover. Mindful of where they were, he let Severus take him by the arm and lead him down the hall back to his quarters.

Once the sitting room door was safely closed and warded behind them, Severus wrapped his arms around him. "You're shaking."

"I . . . ." He slipped his hands under Severus' robe and hugged his lover tight to him. The warmth and lean hard muscle of the body he held convinced him of Severus' reality in a way that just looking at him couldn't.

"Did something happen at work? Were you jinxed? Cursed?" Severus pulled back far enough to look him over.

Calmed by Severus' proximity, Harry took a deep breath of his lover's provocative scent and forced himself to answer, "I'm sorry for the . . . dramatic entrance. I thought – "

"Yes?" Severus encouraged, his hand rising to stroke his messy hair back from his forehead over his lightning bolt scar.

"Slug & Jiggers Apothecary was helping the Ministry test out one of those new automatic vampire detectors today." Severus stiffened in his arms. "They caught someone and, er . . . disposed of him before I got back to the office. It was going to take hours to ID his wand and I . . . well, I thought it might have been you. I'm sorry to cause a scene like that, I just . . . had to see you. I had to make sure you were all right."

He rested his head against Severus' chest, breathing in the living warmth of the man.

"As you can see, I am fine," Severus assured, but he could hear the concern in his voice. Severus held him close for a long while before he asked in a subdued tone, "Are they installing these detectors in all the stores now?"

"No. The Ministry's just asking a few of the bigger establishments to help them test the devices," Harry quickly assured, realizing how alarming this news had to be. "Gods, I hate this."

Severus froze in his arms and stepped back. Severus looked almost ashen as he said, "I understand. You have been . . . most generous. Be well, Harry Potter."

"What?" Harry asked.

"You indicated that you were no longer happy with our arrangement – "

This time he did fling himself at Severus. He hugged the man tight to him, stood up on his tiptoes, dug his fingers into Severus' greasy, unwashed hair, and pulled his taller lover down into a deep, open mouthed kiss that went on forever. At first, Severus remained stiff and unresponsive, but then he seemed to melt under Harry's mouth.

Harry was better at handling the narcotic effects of Severus' saliva now, so it was quite a while before he was forced to pull back. Severus' hands were clenched on his shoulders like he'd never let him go.

Harry stared up into those beautiful, dark eyes and explained himself, "I hate that you're in danger every time you step outside the castle. I hate that someone could just walk up to you and kill you for no reason other than that you exist. That's what I hate. Not being with you. I love being with you. I . . . love you."

"You . . . ." Severus appeared totally stunned.

Both their emotions were running high. Severus swooped down to kiss him again. Their hands scrambled over each other's robes, pushing and tugging until the red and black garments fell to the floor. Harry's jumper came off without trouble, but all of Severus' waistcoat buttons were casualties of their rush to get naked.

Once their clothes and shoes were scattered around their feet like the Whomping Willow's leaves at the end of October, Harry pushed Severus up against the wall beside the sitting room door, stood on his tiptoes again, and ravaged his lover's mouth.

The action pressed him tightly against Severus. Because of the difference in their heights, their genitals didn't crush together, but Harry could feel Severus' rock hard length digging into his belly below his navel and Severus' thigh felt absolutely incredible against his own needy flesh. He humped against Severus in helpless abandon, until it became too much.

"More . . . more . . . please . . . ." he begged, digging his hands into Severus' shoulders and pushing his lover towards the pile of clothes at their feet.

Severus' hands still frantically stroking his back, they sank down to the floor, locked in another kiss.

Eventually, the narcotic effect of Severus' saliva started to make itself felt and Harry had to pull away. Frantic for more contact, he nuzzled his way down that alabaster throat with hard, sucking kisses that left bright red marks in their wake.

Severus moaned as Harry 's mouth fastened onto the nearest nipple and gently bit down on the sensitive flesh.

That helpless cry only fanned his fiery need. Normally, Harry had a lot more finesse, but tonight the terror had left him so tightly strung that there was no waiting. He pushed Severus onto the mess of clothes and followed him down.

His hands and mouth made their rough, desperate way to Severus' groin.

To his intense relief, Severus appeared to be with him all the way. Instead of tensing or trying to slow things down, Severus dug his fingernails into his bare shoulders and pulled him closer.

That straining red cock and he were intimate acquaintances now. Harry descended upon it like a hippogriff snatching a salmon from the lake, swallowing it down whole. It was just what he needed. Nothing told him that Severus was alive more than his flavour and scent, and the feel of that huge cock pistoning into his throat.

Harry worked that hungry shaft until Severus was bathed in sweat and trembling all over, a heartbeat away from coming. Then Harry lifted his head and growled, "Accio lubricant."

He could see from Severus' expression that his lover was surprised he'd had the presence of mind to summon the jar of gel. But no matter how rushed, he would never forget the pain Severus used to endure on a regular basis in exchange for the blood that gave him life.

Opening the brown jar, he dug his trembling fingers deep into the white cream, extracted a heaping amount, and transferred it to his lover's body. Severus was tight, always so tight. Sobbing with need, Harry used his fingers to loosen that snug channel enough to accept him. It took a while, but at last Severus felt ready.

Taking Severus' long, lean-muscled legs over his shoulders, he positioned himself at the tiny entrance and pushed home. He knew how to angle himself now so that he hit Severus' prostate on the way in. They both cried out at that initial, perfect contact.

Harry fell into an easy rhythm that was highlighted by their staccato grunts. It was so good, always so good, but he needed more tonight. He needed everything.

Plunging into Severus as deep as he could get, he froze and leaned forward until his head was resting near Severus' shoulder. Reaching out, he cupped the back of Severus' neck and drew his lover's face up towards his own throat. "Feed. Please. Let me feel that you're alive." Severus stiffened under him in denial, for they'd just done this Friday night, but before his lover could voice a single word, Harry unashamedly begged, "Please, please? For me?"

Harry knew he was pushing it. The one thing Severus was always utterly adamant about was sticking to his fortnightly feeding schedule. But Severus seemed to sense the wild need raging through him tonight.

Instead of denying him or pulling away, that rough, velvet tongue poked out and began to lap the skin over his jugular in a familiar pattern he'd come to adore. His entire body jolted in excitement as the heat spiralled out from that one tiny point of contact to turn his whole being into one throbbing mass of ecstasy.

Severus' extended teeth sank through his skin a few moments later, and chemistry conspired against what was left of his reason to melt his brain completely.

Harry could never move when Severus fed. Never think. All he could do was feel. It was without qualification the most erotic act they shared, and if Severus weren't so inflexible about it, he would be here offering his throat every minute of every day.

Soaring higher than a dragon in its mating flight, he whimpered at the exquisite sensations ripping through him.

All too soon, it was over and Severus' tongue was once again laving his throat.

Like a petrifaction spell being released, his body kicked back into life and desire thundered through him. Harry started thrusting again, plunging deep into Severus with quick, even strokes that left them both grunting. Every plunge inwards went deeper and a little wilder than the last. Severus' hands on his shoulders dragged him back down every time, that slender butt humping up to meet him in wanton hunger.

Harry didn't last long. He couldn't, not after Severus feeding. The world exploded around him and he blacked out, tumbling right over onto Severus.

When Harry awoke an indeterminate time later, they were still on the floor inside the doorway. He could tell without even moving that his throat had been healed.

"Here, drink this," Severus said from beneath him. He groaned as Severus shifted them around until he was lying flat on the uncomfortable mound of their clothes, with Severus holding his head up and lifting a brown vial, whose scent he recognized as the restorative potion, to his lips.

Harry gulped the bitter liquid down and tried not to move too much until it took effect. He thought someone's shoe was sticking into his left kidney.

"Hello," he said a few minutes later, grinning goofily up at Severus.

"How do you feel?" Severus was in full worry mode. "It's only been four days since you last allowed me to feed. What we did was very foolhardy."

"Maybe, but it was sublime, wasn't it?"

"That isn't the point. Severe blood loss is no joking matter. You could – "

Harry reached up and cupped Severus' cheek. His lover looked so much better after feeding that it broke his heart that they didn't dare risk it every day. "I know. Thank you for indulging me. I'm all right, really. I just had to feel that you were alive."

"And having me suck your life's blood out of you does that?" Severus snapped, clearly upset with himself for having given in to his lover's urging.

"More than anything. It feels so incredible, Severus. I can't describe it."

"That's just the chemicals in my saliva, Harry," Severus protested.

Harry. Not Potter. That was a first. Sometimes, when Severus was really moved, he'd call him by his full name, but never just his given name.

"No," Harry struggled to explain. "It's the whole thing. Knowing that I keep you alive when we do that, it . . . I don't know, it makes the entire thing almost . . .sacred to me." He felt like an idiot, but the tenderness in Severus' expression made it worth it. He could tell that Severus was struggling to respond, but having difficulty finding the words. So Harry softly noted, "I, er . . . gave you quite a few love marks on your neck. Do you want me to heal them?"

He grinned as Severus gave a slow, negative shake of his head.

"We should get up from the floor, however. It's rather cold down here," Severus said in a near normal tone.

"Forget cold. I've got a shoe digging into my back."

"Yes, I had one there too while we were . . . occupied."

"Sorry." Harry blushed, realizing how out of control he'd been.

Severus' face grew very intense, even for him. "Don't be. It was worth it."

Relieved, he smiled and allowed Severus to help him sit up. The restorative potion had kicked in and his head and stomach felt fine.

He looked at the mess of their clothes beneath them and then silently summoned their bathrobes from the bedroom. Severus' was a long, ankle-length, elegant dressing grown of soft green wool. His own was a light blue towelling robe that fell just below his knees.

As they rose to their feet to belt the robes closed, Harry stared around the sitting room at the boxes he'd noticed when he'd arrived in his panicked rush. "Another estate sale?"

"Yes. This one looks most promising," Severus replied. After fishing his wand from the mess of clothes beneath them, Severus used it to levitate the three boxes off the couch.

Harry followed his lover over to the warmer end of the room, staring curiously down into the contents of the nearest box as he passed. The scrolls in it were so yellowed with age that they looked as though they'd crumble to dust at the first touch. "They look ancient, is what they look. How old is this stuff, any way?"

"Some of it is purported to be over a thousand years old. It's possible I might actually find what I'm searching for in this batch," Severus reported with barely masked excitement. "These documents are old enough."

"Old enough for what?" Harry asked, taking a seat beside Severus on the couch. He was grateful for the heat pouring off the crackling fire, and even more grateful that his lover was still alive to share it with him. But he kept that thought to himself. They'd had enough of an emotional roller coaster ride tonight. They needed to just be together for a while. "You almost sound like you're searching for something specific. I thought you were just looking for inspirations for a cure?"

Severus' thick lashed eyelids swept down to veil his gaze. "I suppose that I'm . . . chasing a fantasy."

"What kind of fantasy?" he asked, intrigued, for Severus was the least whimsical man he'd ever met.

"In the history of all of Wizardry, that's nearly five thousand years of recorded events, there has only been one documented case of vampirism being cured."

"What?" he stared over at Severus, sure he must have misheard. "I thought there was no cure."

Severus nodded. "There is no known cure – today. But a thousand years ago, Salazar Slytherin cured his fiancé after she fell prey to a vampire. According to the history, she'd been fully turned. Slytherin rescued her from where her family held her captive awaiting the officials of their time to dispose of her. He took her to a secret place, and worked steadily for three years searching for a cure. When they returned to Wizarding society three years later, she was tested by the greatest mediwizards and Dark Arts experts of the day. They all verified that she was completely human, with no trace of the curse. Curing her was how he became the greatest wizard of his age."

"But . . . surely, he had to say how he did it?"

Severus shook his head. "Secrecy is ever the root of power. Slytherin claimed to have done it through the sheer force of his will."

"You don't believe that?" Harry asked, startled by the sarcasm in his lover's voice.

"Do you think that if the curse could be lifted by will alone, that there would only have been one recorded cure in all of history? No, Salazar was a potions master and Dark Arts enthusiast, like myself. He either invented a potion or a spell to cure her."

"But wouldn't his heirs have found it, if that were the case?" Harry asked.

"Not necessarily. Back then there was a great deal more competition between the most powerful wizards. Discoveries weren't openly shared. They were closely guarded, to give the wizard who created them more renown amongst his peers. If someone needed a cure for something, they would have to travel to the wizard who invented it and pay to have access to the cure. Potions masters kept their notes in codes back then. Half the time, their heirs wouldn't recognize their parent's most profitable discovery if they were holding the parchment in their hands. When Salazar died, his children ransacked his lab and sold off every last journal and vial. The cure could be anywhere at this point. If it still exists at all."

Harry froze as a thought occurred to him. "Severus, did Slytherin cure her before or after he split with the other founders of Hogwarts?

"Years before. Curing her was what made his fame. He was touted as the greatest wizard of the age." Something in Harry 's voice must have struck Severus as sounding off, for once he'd answered, Severus asked, "Why? What are you thinking?"

Harry hesitated, doubt rushing through him. Surely, it couldn't be this easy, could it?

"Well," he said slowly, "if the competition really was that fierce and he wanted to hide his cure to keep his fame, why would Slytherin just leave it sitting around in his lab for his greedy kids to sell off? Wouldn't he be far more likely to hide it some place safe?"

Severus considered his suggestion for a moment and then nodded, "I suppose that makes sense. But the only hope I have of finding it is if it made its way into someone's Dark Arts collection over the ages."

Harry took a deep breath and then tentatively said, "I think I finally understand something that's puzzled me for most of my life now."

Six months ago Severus would have cracked some joke about everything puzzling him, but tonight Severus simply shifted on the couch beside him and asked, "What's that?"

"Well . . . everything about the basilisk and the Chamber of Secrets. It never made any sense to me. Why would someone go to the trouble to build a school and then hide something in it to kill off the students, something that only his own heir could control? I mean, even if Slytherin were a bigoted pureblood who wanted to maintain the purity of his race, he couldn't be sure that every heir he had would hold those same standards. Locking that basilisk in the school made no sense at all, but maybe Slytherin never intended the basilisk to hurt anyone. If Slytherin built the Chamber to hide his biggest, most secret accomplishment, it makes a hell of a lot more sense that he'd leave something protecting it that only his own heirs could get past."

Severus stiffened on the couch beside him. "You're suggesting . . . ."

"That Salazar Slytherin built the Chamber of Secrets to hide the cure that made him so famous. And he put that damn snake there to safeguard it from all but his rightful heirs. By the time Riddle stumbled into the Chamber, its original purpose was long lost. All he could see was the monster that was there to do his bidding."

All the colour Severus had gained during feeding seemed to leave his face. In an utterly shocked voice he said, "You think the cure is here under Hogwarts?"

"It makes sense, doesn't it? It'd be worth checking out, at least."

"But only the heir of Slytherin can . . . ." Severus paused.

"You're, er, sleeping with the heir of Slytherin. Or at least with someone the chamber wards recognize as his heir," Harry amended. "I think we should go down there and check it out."

Severus nodded. Harry was pleased to see the excitement and hope that sparked in his lover's eyes. After a moment, Severus said, "But not tonight. Perhaps we could attempt to gain entry into the Chamber on Saturday morning, when we'll have all day to explore it?"

"That sounds perfect. I, er, really hope that it's there, Severus. I could be totally wrong," Harry said, realizing that it might have been better if he'd kept his idea to himself and investigated it quietly to spare Severus the disappointment.

"I realize that. But . . . your suggestion that Slytherin built the Chamber and left the basilisk there to guard his secret makes far more sense than the idea that he just caged up a dangerous monster in the school he helped build out of petty spite. I know we may find nothing, but . . . as you said, it's worth investigating."

Harry nodded, unable to contain a wide yawn. He'd had far too much excitement for one night to even think of starting another adventure at this hour. "I should probably get dressed and head home. It's very late."

Severus reached over to touch his shoulder. "If you wish, you're welcome to stay. That is, if you'd like to."

Tempted, he stared into his lover's eyes. Severus never said things he didn't mean. However, he was loath to intrude on Severus' privacy. He knew Severus cared about him very deeply, but he also appreciated that the man liked his solitude. Unable to read what Severus really wanted in his face, he was forced to say, "I wouldn't want to intrude. I know how busy you are during the school week."

Those dark eyes seemed to dig right into him. Harry resisted the impulse to squirm.

"Intrusion implies . . . a lack of belonging or welcome. Neither are applicable in your case," Severus said, a little stiffly. He was never good at voicing his feelings, but Harry loved the near poetic results of his attempts to overcome his reticence.

Harry wasn't sure, but he thought Severus might have just paid him one hell of a compliment. He gave a tired laugh and warned, "Don't tempt me. I might never leave."

"Then never leave," Severus said in a hesitant, quiet tone.

Harry realized that this was hardly the first time Severus had said something of that nature.

All humour fleeing the situation, Harry studied those suddenly tense features so close to his own. "We've, er, joked about this a couple of times, but I'm not laughing right now."

"Nor am I," Severus stiffly replied.

It was the barely masked dread that convinced him his lover was serious. "Do you really think you could stand having me underfoot seven days a week?"

"I'd be willing to try."

Severus might never have said that he loved him, but this uncertain offer said it more clearly than any words could ever hope to.

Harry knew this could end up a complete disaster, in so many ways. They could fight like cats and dogs and finish up hating each other. Or the papers could get wind of where he was spending his nights and plaster Severus' picture all over the Wizarding World, to the recently escaped vampire's downfall. So many things could go wrong that it was crazy to even consider it, but everything about their relationship had been insane from the start. Taking a deep breath, Harry nodded. "All right, then. We'll try it. I can floo to the Ministry from here as easily as my London flat."

"Or you could consider accepting that job Minerva keeps offering you."

The last bit of uncertainty Harry had vanished with those words. Clearly, this wasn't something that had just popped into Severus' mind. His lover must have been thinking about the idea for some time.

In all honesty, he'd been doing the same himself. Parker had been watching him like a hawk since the Acid Wheeler incident. His boss' thinly veiled suspicion was eating away at him. The job was hard enough without having to guard himself against the people who were supposed to be on his side.

Maybe it was time for a change. Any attachment he'd had to being an Auror had worn off years ago. He did it these days simply because it was easier than deciding what he wanted to do instead.

"I'll think about," Harry promised. "But not tonight. We're both knackered. Let's get some sleep."

Harry didn't think that he'd ever seen Severus look as content as he did as they made their way to the bedroom. He could appreciate the feeling. He hadn't been aware of it being there in the first place, but in the wake of his decision to move in with Severus, he almost felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted off his shoulders, which probably proved that he was totally mental because he was about to move in with Severus Snape, who was undoubtedly the most difficult and cantankerous man on the planet. But he was also the man Harry was head over heels in love with, and that made all the difference. Or he hoped it would.

As they snuggled down under Severus' warm duvet, the Slytherin green one this time, it felt like he was making the right decision, despite all the obvious pitfalls.

*****

Saturday dawned wet and cold, but as it was always damp and cold in Hogwarts dungeons, the exterior weather really made no difference.

Harry had thought that moving in with someone after living alone for so many years should feel odd. Admittedly, he'd been nervous as hell when he'd hauled his trunk and Hedwig's cage through the floo into Severus' sitting room Wednesday after work, especially since Severus was occupied with his nightly detentions and hadn't been there to greet him personally. But he'd found a note hanging on a steaming teapot on a tray with his favourite chocolate cake welcoming him and instructing him to unpack and make himself at home. When he'd entered the bedroom to store his trunk until they could discuss where he'd put his stuff, he'd found a new mahogany dresser standing beside Severus' old one. There'd been a note on that, too, as well as on the wardrobe door, whose contents had been moved to one side to make room for his things. There was a new shelf beside the bathtub for his toiletries, and half the medicine cabinet had been cleared.

There was still the small matter of checking with Minerva to see if she had any objection to his taking meals at the teachers' table. He was curious to hear what Severus would say to his Headmistress to explain the request, but Severus had said he'd take care of it, so Harry wasn't worrying about it. Until that was settled, Dobby was more than delighted to deliver him food to Severus' quarters, so it wasn't as though he'd be starving.

The efforts Severus had made to accommodate him into his home were extremely touching. Despite any initial anxiety, he'd never felt more welcome anywhere in his life.

The fact that they'd managed to go almost four days without killing each other was perhaps the greatest relief of all. He'd spent enough weekends in Severus' quarters to know that they were compatible. However, a couple of nights a week was a far cry from having someone underfoot every evening after class. He'd been afraid that he'd get on his reclusive lover's nerves, but so far they hadn't had a single row. Of course, it was early days yet.

Still, the harmonious start they'd made was encouraging, Harry thought as he led his lover along the empty corridors up to the second floor.

He was glad that today was a Hogsmeade Saturday. Most of the students had left for town after breakfast, so they didn't pass anyone in the deserted halls as they made their way up to Moaning Myrtle's lavatory on the second floor. Which was a good thing, since Severus almost balked when he saw where he was being led.

"The entrance is in a girls' lavatory?" Severus questioned.

Harry grinned and nodded. He was a little surprised that Professor Dumbledore hadn't disclosed the location of the Chamber of Secrets to Severus, but Albus had always liked to play his cards close to hand.

"And you mean to just . . . walk in there? Unannounced? How will we explain our presence if the facilities are in use?" Severus voiced his uneasiness. Those dark eyes were regarding the door marked Girls as though a horde of man-eating hags was laying in wait for them on the other side.

Tickled by this show of Severus' old-fashioned sensibilities and modesty, he softly assured, "It won't be. Take my word for it."

Harry was a little surprised that Severus didn't know about Moaning Myrtle. The man had lived in the school for more than thirty years.

"Potter, I saw your Divination grades."

Harry chuckled. "It's not Divination. I promise. No one ever goes in there. Come on."

"How can you possibly be sure that no one ever uses the girls' bathroom in a corridor you haven't used in a dozen years?"

Opening the door, Harry walked in. The room was still as dark, oppressive, and gothic as he remembered. He looked over his shoulder and explained, "Well, for one thing most of the girls prefer not to have to deal with – "

"Who's there?" a whiney girl's voice demanded from the seemingly empty loo. "What are you men doing in the girls' lavatory? I'm going to tell on you!"

"Merlin," Severus muttered beside him, going white, "I know we should run, but I can't find my feet."

"It's okay, Severus. It's just Myrtle. Hello, Myrtle," Harry called out as cheerfully as possible.

A moment later, the pigtailed brunette spectre in her school robes that he remembered came wafting out of one of the stalls. Her bespectacled round face was lined with suspicion. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"

It was a strange feeling to have a see-through person peering at him from midair.

"It's me, Harry. Harry Potter. Don't you remember me, Myrtle?" he asked the ghost before him in his most charming tone.

Harry remembered her as being a rather plain and unattractive girl, several years his senior, but now when he looked at Myrtle, she seemed incredibly young.

"Harry! It's been ages! Why haven't you come to visit me? You promised you would," she scolded.

"I know, Myrtle. I'm sorry. I'm an Auror now. They keep me terribly busy," he explained, while Severus stood beside him watching the exchange with a bemused air.

"Has there been another murder? Is that why you're here now?" she questioned.

"No. I'm just here to show my friend the Chamber of Secrets. Is it all right with you if I take him down? We won't be long," he said.

"Will you come back and visit me when you're done?" she pleaded. "No one ever comes in here anymore."

When he'd been young, this habit of hers had irritated him no end, but now Harry saw her as the lonely young girl she was, trapped forever at the site of her untimely murder. The tragedy of it moved him in a way it couldn't when he was younger. "Yes, Myrtle, I'll come visit. I promise."

"All right, then," she said. "I'll see you later, Harry."

With that, Myrtle turned and dove through the open stall door into the toilet, leaving a splash of splattered water spreading in her wake.

"You really do have the most extraordinary acquaintances," Severus said beside him once she was gone. "First a house elf, now a ghost. What next?"

"Well, there's always the boggart in the wardrobe in the Dark Arts classroom," he joked, just to see that sour expression of old turn on him.

"Very amusing. How do we get into the chamber? Down the toilet like your ghostly companion?"

Chuckling, Harry shook his head. "No. How come you don't know about Moaning Myrtle? I thought with the way you patrol the halls, that you'd know everything that went on here."

The glare Severus gave him would have withered spring buds on the branch. "I patrol for miscreants. I assure you, I'm not loitering around girls' lavatories, at least not those in which there is no rule-breaking going on. I don't believe I've ever seen anyone enter this bathroom, now that I think of it."

"That didn't strike you as strange?" Harry lightly teased. He could see how irked Severus was that he knew something about Hogwarts that Severus didn't.

"I've never seen anyone come out of the Room of Requirement, either, but that hardly means that there is some ominous reason as to why it isn't frequented," Severus replied and then pointedly asked, "Were you going to show me the entrance to Slytherin's chamber?"

"You're going to love this," Harry promised.

He walked up to the ornate island of sinks, with Severus trailing behind him. It didn't take him any time at all to locate the proper faucet, the one with the serpent on it.

There were mirrors over each basin. As Harry paused before the correct sink, he could feel Severus behind him, but he couldn't see him in the mirror.

This was the first time this had happened. Aside from the one tiny mirror in his bathroom, there weren't any in Severus' quarters.

Harry stared at the shadowy image of himself for a moment, glanced over his shoulder at the man right behind him, and asked, "Why can't a vampire be seen in mirrors? I mean, I've read all that bilk about them not having souls, but that's utter nonsense. You've got more of a soul than anyone I know."

"Thank you," Severus said, peering over Harry's shoulder into the eerily uninhabited looking glass. "The science of the effect has never been adequately explained. There is some speculation that a vampire's anatomy reflects light differently. Others theorize that vampirism was the result of an ancient curse that went awry, that since its cause is based in magic, its effects don't have to conform to science or reason. Nothing's ever been proven."

"You know, I never really understood why the Ministry had to invent those fancy detectors to identify vampires. Couldn't they have just as easily have installed security mirrors like the Muggles use to catch them?" Harry asked. This mightn't be the proper time for this discussion, but it was the first real chance he'd had to clear up these things. He was always uncomfortable questioning Severus on the particulars of his nature. He worked too hard to convince Severus that he wasn't a horrible monster to spend any time concentrating on the differences between them, but he did want to understand.

Severus didn't seem upset with him for the delay. Instead, his expression turned almost mischievous as Severus said, "I'll show you why they can't use mirrors to detect us. Look into that one again."

Harry turned back to the mirror and gasped as he saw Severus' image right where it should be behind his own. "How?"

"A simple glamour. I have to consciously erect it, but if I suspect that I might be exposed to a mirror, it's easily enough managed. I can even project it automatically, so that it will show up in any reflective surface like a normal human's reflection. However, if you look closely, I think you'll see that the image isn't perfect. It's been more than thirty years since I saw myself."

Harry peered at Severus' reflection, only realizing now that he'd been told how dissimilar the facial features of the dark haired man in the mirror were to his lover's. "You're right. It doesn't really look like you up close, but it would be good enough to fool someone at a casual glance."

"Yes," Severus said. His lover seemed to lose interest in the mirror as his gaze moved to study the sink they were standing in front of.

Harry tried not to be too freaked out as Severus' image disappeared as his lover stopped concentrating.

"Is this the entrance, then?" Severus questioned.

"Yes. Let me show you how it opens. Step back a bit, will you?" Staring at the tiny engraving of the snake, Harry said what he thought was "Open up," but which actually came out sounding something like "Shurrresssssh hasssssaaaa."

Just as had happened seventeen years ago when he'd stood here and said those same words, a mechanical whirring sounded, followed by a loud grinding noise, and then the island of sinks slid to the side, revealing the entrance down to the Chamber of Secrets.

Severus and he both stared down the pitch-black pit.

"Last time we just jumped," Harry said, shaking his head at the foolhardiness of youth. He stared at the discoloured stone walls of the tunnel and silently transfigured an iron ladder out of the lichen coating it. "That should help."

"The thing looks like the gates of Hell," Severus said in a subdued voice.

"You don't know the half of it. At least the basilisk's gone now," Harry said as he fished his wand out of the pocket of his green robe.

"Before, when you spoke Parseltongue, what did you say?" Severus questioned.

"Er, open up, I think," he answered.

"May I ask how you know how to make your words come out in Parseltongue? Voldemort used to speak it, but he was most secretive about the process. There really isn't much information on the skill at all, aside from the fact that it's a talent a person must be born with, rather than develop, and that it's among the rarest of gifts," Severus said.

"Voldemort probably couldn't explain it to anyone," Harry answered. "Any more than I can. I, er, don't really have any control over it. I don't even know I'm doing it, most times. I just look at a snake, or in this case, the representation of one, and speak to it. I think I'm using English, but the words come out in Parseltongue. When the snakes speak back to me, I hear their words in English. It's very strange."

"Yes," Severus agreed, seeming a little disappointed.

"Well, shall we?" Harry asked, gesturing towards the dark hole before them. "I'd better warn you. There was a cave-in the last time I was down there that blocked the main entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. We might have to hunt through a few tunnels before we find our way back to the main chamber."

Severus nodded, eyeing the entrance the way anyone would.

Harry reached out and patted Severus' arm, then turned to find the rungs of the ladder. It was just as far down to the bottom as he remembered; only it was a little easier going this time with the ladder there. He stumbled off the last rung onto a crunchy floor and found his footing on the uneven ground. It was so cold and damp down here that it made the dungeons seem warm.

Withdrawing his wand from his pocket, Harry lit the area with a silent "lumos" charm. The golden light from his wand shone out like a spotlight, illuminating the collapsed sections of the entrance chamber. The filthy ground around him was littered with huge sections of wall and fallen rock that were taller than him in some cases. They cast eerie shadows through the antechamber of what had once been a monster's den.

Harry supposed the rocks were better than what was underfoot. No one had cleaned out this place since the basilisk's death. There were still hundreds, if not thousands, of skeletons of rodents and small animals around them. The dry bones cracked and crunched underfoot with every step.

He looked up to the top of the shaft to see Severus' dark robes billowing around him like the traditional vampire's cloak as his lover descended the ladder.

When Severus joined him a moment later, a second wand lit the place. His lover's dark eyes scanned the area.

"How charming." Severus walked a few yards into the darkness and knelt down to the floor. "This is the basilisk skin?"

Harry joined Severus and stared down at the enormous empty snakeskin he recalled from seventeen years ago. Its dry yellowed scales looked unchanged. "Yeah. This place must be sealed pretty tight because it looks exactly the same as it did when Ron and I found it when we were twelve."

"It's nearly sixty feet long," Severus said in a hushed tone.

"Yes. The basilisk was even larger than that when I faced it."

"I can't imagine coming down here at such a young age, especially knowing the creature that shed this was still alive," Severus softly said.

"It had Ginny," Harry said, as if that explained everything. He supposed that with Gryffindors like himself, it pretty much did. He hated the house stereotypes, especially the one that suggested that Gryffindors had more courage than sense, but he had to admit that he often fit that one perfectly.

"What are you chuckling about?" Severus asked as they stood back up.

"I was just thinking how utterly Gryffindor that answer was," he admitted.

"Only someone from that House would have the, umm, courage," Harry knew that wasn't the word Severus really wanted to say, but appreciated the diplomacy, "to enter this place."

"You're here," Harry noted.

"I'm here almost twenty years after the basilisk's death, accompanied by the most powerful wizard of this millennium. The circumstances are hardly comparable," Severus answered.

"We hope," Harry said, examining the dark and gloomy tunnel openings around them. The main entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was still buried, but he knew the others led back to it. There'd been dozens of openings into that horrible chamber where he'd found Ginny's unconscious body, Tom Riddle's incorporeal one, and the all too corporeal basilisk.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Severus questioned.

"Well, I don't know a thing about basilisks' reproductive habits, do you? Anything could be living in the Forbidden Forest. The thing was loose for months seventeen years ago. It could have mated. We could walk into a nest of adolescents," Harry said.

"I didn't think of that," Severus replied in that bland tone he often took when he was trying to disguise worry or fear.

"Neither did I until just this moment."

"We don't have to go on," Severus said.

He caught Severus' gaze and held it. "Yes, we do. If there's a solution to our problem, it's undoubtedly in the Chamber of Secrets. This is the only real hope we've got."

"We've got?" Severus echoed.

"Yes, we've," Harry insisted, laying his hand on Severus' back. "Neither of us is alone anymore. If something affects one of us, it affects the other. Or am I making some major mistaken assumptions here?"

Suddenly, Harry didn't feel quite so confident. Maybe his moving in with Severus really hadn't meant what he'd thought it did.

Two vampire-strong arms gripped his shoulders. The gaze that stared down at his own was steady and open, if startled. "Forgive me. I'm not accustomed to . . . ."

". . . having someone who loves you?" Harry completed with a shy smile. "I know. I feel the same way."

This was hardly the place for it, but their mouths found each other without conscious volition.

A long, breathy time later, Severus pulled back. Appearing as hot and bothered as Harry felt, Severus ran a hand through the hair he'd washed that morning and stared around the dismal ruins surrounding them. "How real do you believe the possibility that the creature reproduced?"

Taking a deep breath and telling a certain part of his anatomy to calm down, he tried to concentrate on Severus' question. When his brain finally kicked into gear, he said, "I don't know. But I think we should transfigure hand mirrors and use them, just in case."

"A wise precaution," Severus nodded. "Highly un-Gryffindor, if I might be so bold as to say. I thought you all charged in where angels feared to tread."

"What does that say about you then, I wonder?" he joked, pointing out, "You did follow me down here."

"Perhaps this isn't the best of times to question my mental shortcomings," Severus answered. "The fact that I would obviously follow you anywhere does not bode well for our chances of survival."

"You keep sweet-talking me like that and we're going to end up doing it on a pile of mouldy bones."

Severus' gaze swept the gruesome floor. "If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer to forego that experience."

He gave Severus' arm a squeeze and then stepped back. Harry stared around the dark ruins, trying to get his bearings. "I think we need to head north, which would be that way."

He pointed to a tunnel opening in the general direction of the blocked chamber's main entrance.

"Very well." Severus paused as they stepped towards the dark opening. A moment later, he handed Harry a small vanity mirror rather like the one Hermione had held in her hand when she'd been petrified all those years ago. There was a matching mirror in Severus' left hand. Severus' right hand was clenched in a tight fist around his wand. "I believe I should go first."

"No," Harry automatically protested.

"Our chances for survival will decrease astronomically if the more powerful wizard is petrified in our first brush with the creature," Severus argued. "If I should be petrified first, you have a much larger chance of getting us both out of here alive. You know what I am saying makes sense."

Harry gave a reluctant nod. "I just don't like it."

Severus nodded in turn. "I appreciate that. If we should encounter a basilisk in the tunnels, might I suggest immediately transfiguring a wall between ourselves and the beast, rather than attempting to evade or destroy the creature?"

"I never would have thought of that," Harry said with a chuckle.

"It's probably the basic difference between our two Houses. Gryffindors prefer to take on adversaries headfirst in a heroic rush. Slytherins prefer to approach the conflict with as little collateral damage as possible."

"That's why you were out there trading spells with Voldemort's forces in the frontline during the final battle, I suppose, because you like to avoid all that collateral damage," Harry fondly pointed out.

Severus met his gaze, a spark of amusement dancing in his eyes, "I never said I was a very good Slytherin. Shall we proceed?"

Biting back his instinctive protest at having Severus face the danger first, he followed his lover towards the tunnel he'd indicated. Severus paused at the opening and shone his wand into the dark channel. Then he held out the mirror and stared into its surface before starting to move into the tunnel proper. Harry followed behind, as patiently as he could.

The tunnels hadn't improved in the last seventeen years. They were still gloomy and claustrophobically narrow. In places there was water underfoot. In others, the passageways were as dry as an Egyptian tomb.

Harry was impressed by how adeptly Severus handled the awkward search by mirror. They progressed at only a slightly slower pace than they might have done walking without the visual aid.

When more than three and a half hours had passed and they'd yet to see a sign of the basilisk, or so much as a rat, Harry began to think that Slytherin's guardian monster had died without reproducing. He was also beginning to worry that they might be lost down here, and that the Chamber itself might have collapsed over the years. He'd known it would take longer to reach the Chamber of Secrets using the side passageways through which the basilisk used to hunt, but he hadn't imagined it taking quite this long.

Harry was about to suggest that they consider breaking off for the day and continuing their search tomorrow – providing they ever found their way out, of course – when Severus froze in front of him and emitted a surprised gasp.

"What?" Harry worriedly questioned, fearing that Severus had encountered one of the basilisk's children in his mirror and would topple over any second.

"Come see," Severus suggested.

Harry sidled up beside his lover and held his mirror out.

"The area appears safe," Severus said, extending his wand a little further. "I assume this is what we're searching for?"

Lowering his mirror, Harry stared around the cavernous, cathedral-like chamber. The jewel encrusted eyes on man-sized serpent heads lining the nave of the Chamber glistened at them almost threateningly. The regal visage of the two-hundred-foot tall statue head façade on which he'd killed the basilisk was still staring out over the Chamber. At the statue's bottom was a black, somewhat slimy looking smear and a seventy-foot long skeleton that were all that remained of the monster after seventeen years of decay.

The pool beside which he'd found Ginny lying and met Tom Riddle's sixteen-year-old ghostly manifestation glistened in their wand lights. The ornate facades on the sidewalls were a motif of intertwined serpents, elegant in their complexity. In its day, this must have been an impressive retreat.

But the Chamber still felt as unwelcoming to Harry as it had when he'd been twelve and terrified. The very stone underfoot seemed to throb with ancient power. The statues' flat, unseeing eyes watched them almost suspiciously as they advanced into the open vault. The magnificence of the room seemed to make them both feel small and insignificant, for Severus appeared to be experiencing the same emotions were his expression anything to go by.

"This is amazing," Severus said as he took in the complex architecture of the Chamber.

"Yes. I've never seen anything like it."

"Where do you think Salazar would have hidden his treasures?" Severus asked. For all that the massive room was impressive as hell, there really wasn't much in it, certainly, no place to hide any kinds of papers.

Harry looked down the central nave and up at the statue of the bearded human face that had stood sentinel over the chamber for more than a millennia. "Well, when I was here last time, the basilisk came out of the opening in the statue's mouth. Maybe there's a secret room back there."

The glance they exchanged seemed to communicate their misgivings far more explicitly than words.

"Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there?" Severus said and stepped towards the rounded, dark opening of the statue's mouth.

That hole was even less inviting than the tunnels. Harry couldn't help but think if there were any basilisk young, that they'd be hiding where their mother had nested all those centuries.

Their footsteps echoed ominously through the cavernous chamber.

Using the mirror and his wand, Severus checked the inky black entrance and then stepped forward.

Harry followed close behind, his nerves stretched so thin that he'd probably incinerate the first thing that moved. Their breaths seemed to thunder through the cave-like surroundings.

At first, this passage seemed to be a much smaller, narrower tunnel. It was so close in there that Severus had to bend down once they stepped over the threshold.

A two-minute walk brought them to a large room that was littered with more animal bones, as well as several human skulls, Harry uneasily noted. Even though it had probably been years since it had been occupied, the room still bore the sour reek of decay.

Their wand lights revealed another matching tunnel on the far side of what had clearly been the basilisk's nest.

They crunched their way through the skeletons to the next tunnel. This one was different than the last. Dozens of snakes were carved into the grey basalt around its circular entrance.

Severus and he both froze at the same instant as a raw and frighteningly powerful magic played over them.

Security ward, Harry recognized. They could get within a couple of feet of the opening, but no closer. The wards felt rather like what Harry had always imagined the invisible force fields in Muggle science fiction shows must feel like, minus the dramatic visual effects. There was no sparking or glowing as they tried to pass. They simply could penetrate no further.

"It's warded," Harry whispered. He reached out with his own power and examined the spell. Beside him, he could feel Severus doing the same thing.

"I don't think I can break these without bringing the tunnel and maybe even the entire Chamber down on our heads," Harry said at last.

Severus nodded. "Perhaps you won't have to break them. Do you feel the power flowing through us?"

Harry nodded.

"Perhaps you should speak to the snakes on the wall. Try telling them that Salazar Slytherin's heir has returned and you'd like them to let you pass," Severus suggested.

"Okay. I'll give it a shot."

Harry stepped as close to the snake carvings as he could get with the powerful repulsion of the wards pushing him back and said, "I am the heir of Salazar Slytherin. Open your wards to allow me and my companion entrance." This time, he could nearly hear his words hissing and spitting forth in the magical, sibilant speech of Parseltongue.

At first, nothing happened. All at once, he felt the power of the magical wards drop off of him. Harry was so close to the spell web that he actually staggered when the wards accepted him.

"Brilliant!" he approved.

"What is? Oh," Severus said upon seeing him a foot or so closer to the entrance than the potions master was. "It appears that the wards will only recognize the heirs of Slytherin."

"Damn."

"Lucius Malfoy had a powerful, ancient ward on his manor that felt like this. It would only allow direct blood to pass without invitation. That way no heir could be compelled to admit enemies to the manor. The heir would pass through safely while the stranger was stopped at the gates, just like this. Try inviting me in," Severus suggested.

"Severus Snape, head of Slytherin house, please enter," Harry asked, directing his comment as much to the serpent-engraved entrance as his flesh and blood companion. Once again, his words issued forth in the hissing Parseltongue.

Severus seemed to sway for a second, and then he stepped forward.

"Well done," Severus approved.

"It was your idea," he reminded, reaching out to give his lover's elbow a welcoming squeeze.

Their gazes locked.

Although Severus' face was often hard to read, Harry could see how nervous the other man was. Thirty years of hope were about to either be completely dashed or justified. They would either find Salazar Slytherin's personal records in that room or Severus would go back to his futile search through Dark Arts collections for a cure that in all probability had been lost centuries ago.

Harry could appreciate how his lover felt. His own guts were clenched tight with worry.

This meant so much to both of them.

Severus hid it well, but Harry knew how he suffered from his restraint on a daily basis. In these last few months that he'd been spending the entire weekend with Severus, he couldn't count the number of times he'd wake up in the early hours before dawn on the non-feeding weekends to find Severus staring at the ceiling, or, more disconcertingly, gazing at him with a hunger and need so fierce that he could nearly touch it. Whenever Severus would catch him watching him, Severus would get wordlessly up from the bed and leave the room. Sometimes Severus would even leave his quarters.

As much as Harry wanted to help, since their talk out on the lake the first time this had happened, he'd learned not to offer his blood at those moments when Severus was at his weakest. Even though his own hard-won discretion and restraint had brought them closer, it was still hell watching Severus suffer.

Beyond Severus' constant discomfort, he himself was living in a state of low-grade panic for Severus' safety every time Severus left the school for any reason. January's vampire scare might be four months in the past now, but the spree of killings had mobilized the Ministry on the vampire issue in a way that little else could. Those new vampire detectors were still exorbitantly expensive; but as the technology improved, their price would come down. In the next few years, Severus could find himself restricted entirely to the castle grounds. Providing that Hogwarts Board of Governors didn't decide to install one of the devices in the school. He didn't even want to consider what Severus' life would be like were that to happen.

If this didn't pan out, Severus was going to be under a death sentence in the Wizarding World.

"If we don't find it in here, we can keep searching through the tunnels. There might be other hidden rooms," Harry said.

Severus nodded his agreement, but his eyes looked as bleak as Harry felt at the idea of failing today.

"Well," Severus said, straightening his spine in characteristic preparation to facing a difficult situation.

"How are you doing?" Harry asked softly, touching Severus' stiff black shoulder. "Honestly."

"The truth?" Severus questioned, looking as though he weren't sure his lover truly wanted to hear it. At his nod, Severus quietly admitted, "I feel as if the walls of the world are closing in on me. That vampire detector is going to be the end of my kind. This . . . feels like my last chance."

This was the closest Severus had ever come to openly voicing fear to him. Harry wasn't sure that his proud lover would welcome the gesture, but he couldn't hold back. He stepped forward and hugged Severus tight to him.

Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the millennia old secret chamber, but Severus stiffened in his arms. After a moment, Severus relaxed into the hug.

"You have options," Harry insisted, drawing back far enough to see Severus' eyes. "If we can't find Slytherin's cure before the Ministry follows through with its anti-vampire campaign, then I think we should move into Muggle London. Together."

Severus' eyes warmed with affection and more. "What would I do in Muggle London?"

"Become a kept man for your rich, young lover?" Harry suggested with an outrageous grin.

Severus' smile was small and fleeting, but it was there, which was all that counted. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Just remember, you have options," he repeated, serious again.

Severus nodded and turned towards the opening. Ever cautious, Severus put his wand and mirror through the door first to check for the basilisk, even though they were fairly certain at this point that the creature had died without laying any eggs.

After determining the room to be clear, they stepped through into what appeared to be a potions laboratory. Racks of glass containers, glass tubes, vials, and ingredient jars lined the walls, much as they did in Severus' lab. Several cauldrons sat on a brewing table. The room was neat, but lived in, just as his lover's workspace was.

It was astonishing to realize that simple housekeeping charms could last for more than a thousand years, but the secret lab looked as though its owner had stepped out mere moments ago.

"This is amazing," Severus commented in a reverent tone as he eyed the jars on a nearby shelf. "These ingredients are perfectly preserved. Look at these newt eyes!"

"I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I have vivid memories of newt eyes and toad hearts from detention."

Severus didn't seem to hear; he was so enthralled with whatever was in those jars. There wasn't a single one labelled, which was a major difference between Slytherin and Severus' jars. All of Severus' ingredients were prominently marked.

As Severus examined the rows of containers, Harry moved further into the room. At the very end of the work area he found the kind of antique wooden chest that larger rolls of parchments used to be stored in. The chest was nearly the size of a casket; it was so large.

"Severus?" he had to call his lover's name twice before Severus could pry himself away from Slytherin's unlabelled stores. "I think we may have found something."

Severus joined him and together they approached the cedar chest. It was highly polished with ornate serpent motifs carved along the edges of the lid, with the Slytherin coat of arms decorating the top and front. There was no visible lock, but when Severus attempted to lift the lid, it refused to budge for all that the vampire put his full strength to it.

"Wait a second," Harry advised. Focusing on the nearest serpent figure, he said what he thought was 'open up.' The words once again emerged in the sibilant sounding, "Shurrresssssh hasssssaaaa."

"Good thinking," Severus approved as the lid of the chest opened at Harry's first try.

Both of them gasped as they eyed the contents. There were literally thousands of parchments inside. It looked like quite possibly every piece of paper Salazar Slytherin had ever written upon in his ninety year life was stored in there.

"This could take a while," Harry stated the obvious.

"Yes," Severus agreed, but he didn't sound upset by the possibility. "However . . . this is most promising."

Loving the excitement that Severus couldn't quite conceal, he softly asked, "Do you want me to shrink the chest to take back to your quarters? It's more than a three-hour walk back. We should start soon."

At Severus' nod, he shrank the chest down and carefully stored it in his robe pocket.

"Is there anything else you want to bring with us?" Harry asked, praying that Severus didn't want any of those nasty jars with the unidentifiable pieces of formerly living creatures floating in their cloudy yellow liquid.

"No, but I'd like to come back," Severus answered, his gaze eagerly roaming the room.

"How did I know you were going to say that?" he smiled.

Side by side, they began the long trek back to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

*****

When they reached Severus' quarters – well, their quarters now, Harry corrected himself – Severus disappeared into his vampire research room and didn't emerge until late that night.

Harry was sitting in his usual grey easy chair in front of a roaring fire, trying to shake off the chill he'd gotten down in those freezing tunnels. The latest issue of Quidditch Monthly was open in his hands. He was reading about Viktor Krum's failing career with a sense of sadness as he sipped a hot cup of tea when a visibly dispirited Severus rejoined him.

Harry watched his lover slump into the chair beside his without saying a word. Severus' face was tight with anger and disappointment. Severus held a two-foot parchment in his right hand.

When Harry glanced at the paper, it appeared to contain row upon row of representations of what looked like little green snakes at first glance.

"We appear to have a serious problem," Severus said.

Recalling what Severus had told him of the ancient potions masters' attempts to safeguard their work, he asked, "What's wrong? Can't you crack Slytherin's code?"

"Crack it? I can't even read it," Severus sighed.

"What do you mean?"

"Look at it. It's totally incomprehensible."

Severus held out the parchment to him. Casting aside his quidditch magazine, he took hold of the scroll and drew it closer. Pushing his glasses up his nose, Harry stared down at the yellowed sheet.

A strange thing happened. At first, Harry seemed to see the rows of little green snakes, but when the parchment came close enough to read, he saw that the snakes were actually letters, and they weren't even green. The handwriting was unfamiliar, but easily legible. "Comfrey for ills of the chest, but horehound is best. Add to the rest, then stir south to west – "

"What are you doing?" Severus asked, sitting up straighter in his chair.

"Reading it. It doesn't make much sense, but – "

"You can see words there? English words?" Severus demanded in an intense tone.

"Er, yes. Can't you?" Harry stammered.

"No, I bloody well can't. It's just line after line of the same serpent icon. There isn't any detectable pattern. What does it say?"

"I just read this part to you – "

"No," Severus corrected. "You just spoke Parseltongue again."

"I did?" Harry asked stupidly.

Severus nodded and said after a moment, "The man who enchanted these parchments was a true genius, and probably nearly as powerful as you. Not only did Salazar spell the Chamber to admit only his heirs who spoke Parseltongue, but he also managed to somehow charm his notes so that only his heirs could read them. I've never encountered anything like it. Can you even detect a spell on it?"

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on the parchment. Aside from a strong preservation spell, the paper itself felt completely normal. Yet there was the faintest trace of power throbbing through the document like the pulse of a dying man.

"The only thing on the parchment is a preservation charm. The encryption spell's on the ink," Harry determined at last. Opening his eyes, he stared at the paper. The words still looked perfectly normal to him. "This really isn't in English when you look at it?"

Severus shook his head.

Harry watched relief flood those tense features.

"An impediment rather than a roadblock, then," Severus muttered to himself. After a moment of staring into the crackling flames, Severus softly questioned, "Potter?"

Knowing what was coming, Harry gave a sleepy, "Mmmmm?"

The pause that followed was long and oddly tense. Finally, Severus seemed to force himself to ask in a tone that Harry thought was probably trying to be playful, but came out sounding as frightened as his lover no doubt was feeling at having to ask such a thing, "How much do you love me?"

This was Severus' first spoken reference to the declaration Harry had made to him the other night. These last four days that he'd been living here with Severus, all of his lover's feelings had been demonstrated through actions rather than words. Appreciating how difficult this was for Severus, Harry smiled and made it easy. "Enough to translate a trunk-load of Parseltongue for you, if that's what you're asking."

"It was," Severus replied with that small, shy smile he sometimes got tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Thank you."

"It's our problem, remember?" Harry reminded and then asked, "Did you want to start now? That thing in your hand looks like a potion to ease respiratory congestion. I don't think it's what we're looking for."

Severus put the parchment down on the side table with a weary sigh. "This could take a very long time."

"Fortunately, you've got your very own live-in translator," Harry joked. "So should we get cracking?"

"If you're up to it," Severus said.

It had been a long day and they were both exhausted, but Harry could see how excited Severus was by the prospect of having a cure within his reach. "Of course, I'm up to it. The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll find it."

"Soon is a relative term in this case. Did you see how many parchments there were in that trunk?" Severus asked.

"Pessimist. Come on. You can take notes of what I'm reading, in case you want to try any of the potions that aren't the actual cure," Harry said, knowing how to appeal to his Severus.

Severus gave him a long look and then questioned in an innocent tone, "Did you mean take notes of you hissing at the parchment?"

"I forgot about that," Harry said.

"I thought you might have done."

"So what you're saying is I'm going to have to write it all down?" Harry asked, trying not to panic at the scope of the task ahead of him.

"If you can," Severus replied.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, do we know that the spell on the ink will allow you to translate the notes into English? There is every possibility that you may end up writing your translations down in Parseltongue."

"Now, isn't that an encouraging thought? Okay, you don't get to buy us any more problems than we already have. Let's see what I can do and work from there, all right?"

With a sombre nod, Severus led the way into the crowded workroom. Until now, Harry had only caught glimpses into it as his lover was entering or leaving.

The torch-lit room literally vibrated with power from the many Dark Arts objects and collections stored there. Harry looked over the boxes and shelves of books and magical paraphernalia that crowded eighty percent of the large room. The remaining twenty percent of space was dedicated to a small potions workbench, which was currently sharing its limited area with Slytherin's open trunk.

The long workbench was already covered with the serpent-filled parchments, but the open trunk barely looked as though its contents had been touched.

Severus was right. This was going to take a while.

*****

Six weeks later, school was about to let out, and they'd barely touched the trunk's contents. Every night, Harry flooed home from work and ate a fast meal in their quarters while he waited for Severus to finish administering detentions. When Severus arrived, they'd enter the research room to spend the next three or four hours going through Slytherin's parchments.

Severus' concerns had proven valid. Harry wasn't able to write down what he read. He had to read it in Parseltongue, turn away from the document to tell Severus in English what he'd just read, and then Severus would transcribe it and make notes to himself or they'd charm a quill to take dictation. It was an arduous process that tried both their tempers sorely at times. But somehow, they managed to refrain from killing each other.

"You know," Harry hoarsely said one Friday night after four hours of translating, looking over to where Severus sat on an equally uncomfortable stool at the workbench beside him, "the way this is progressing, we're going to be dead of natural causes long before we find that cure in this mess."

"Or unnatural causes," Severus replied in a short-tempered tone. "Is it possible that last word was fenugreek instead of 'From the Greek'?"

Harry looked back at the parchment, checked, and sighed. "Sorry."

"If you don't pay attention to what you're reading, we will be here forever," Severus reprimanded.

"I've had a thought as to how to make this easier," he said.

"Your last thought on how to make this easier resulted in mixing two weeks of our work in with the untranslated material, if I may remind you," Severus said, not even glancing up from the long parchment on which he was adding the latest translated potion. It was Severus' snide detention voice, the one that could still raise Harry's hackles.

Making a conscious effort not to respond to that tone in kind, Harry took a deep breath, and then said, "Yes, I remember. But I think I figured out what I did wrong."

"Other than attempting to magically rush a task that can only be accomplished by painstaking research work?"

"Do you want to hear my idea or do you want to spend the next twenty years arguing over things like 'fucking geek'?

"The herb is fenugreek and no," Severus said.

Totally lost, Harry sighed and questioned, "No what?"

"No, I don't want to spend the next century listening to you massacre the names of herbs that were on your first year exams. What is your brilliant idea?"

"One more sarcastic comment and we're done for the night," Harry warned. "You're way over your quota."

"I wasn't aware I had one," Severus replied in a milder, amused tone.

"Four hours of non-stop snark is my limit," he glared at that haughty face.

Severus put down his quill and tiredly rubbed at the bridge of his long nose. "It's been closer to five hours. And you're right, I've been taking my frustrations out on you."

It wasn't quite an apology, but it was as close as Severus usually got to one. The exhausted cast to Severus' features allowed Harry to be magnanimous. He grinned and teased, "Don't worry. You can make it up to me in bed. So, do you want to hear my idea or not?"

"I await it with bated breath," Severus replied, straightening up on the stool with an audible crack of his spine.

"That was sarcasm," Harry said, folding his arms across his chest and giving Severus a long and steady stare.

"Oh, for . . . Potter, just tell me what's on your mind, without the Gryffindor dramatics, please?" Severus snapped.

He had to smile at that. "Gryffindor dramatics? This from a man who can't leave a room without flouncing out like a startled crow? Anyway, I think I went about it all wrong the last time I tried to summon the cure."

"Obviously."

"Do you want to hear this or not?" When Severus' snide expression subsided to one of blank impassivity, he continued, "Last time I just tried to summon any document that contained any derivative of the word 'vampire'. It should have worked. But Slytherin obviously put a spell on the contents of his chest to prevent anyone from doing precisely what we tried to do. Instead of summoning the cure, my attempt made all the papers we'd already translated fly back to mix with the contents of the chest."

"My memory is not yet failing, although my patience is," Severus said. "I was there. I know what happened. We're still trying to undo that debacle."

"Well, I think that happened because I forgot the basic component of everything dealing with Slytherin's legacy," Harry said.

"And that would be?" Severus asked.

"I tried to summon the cure in English, not Parseltongue. That was my mistake. Every piece of Slytherin's work is coded to respond only to Parseltongue. I think it might work if I tried to summon it using snake language. What do you think?"

"That I'm a fool. I should have thought of that weeks ago," Severus said softly, pushing his hair out of his face with an impatient gesture.

Harry reached over to the man on the stool beside his own and ran his fingers through Severus' unwashed hair. It mightn't be the cleanest hair in the world, but it was certainly the softest. "You had other things on your mind. And I could be wrong."

He leaned closer to kiss the irritated purse from Severus' lips.

Those skilful, long fingered hands stroked down his back, making him shiver.

"I haven't told you lately, but I do appreciate the amount of work you've put into this project," Severus said when they parted after Harry's stool began to wobble alarmingly from the way he was tilting it to reach Severus. "I know there are other things you would much rather be doing."

He stroked Severus' hair and temples. "It's our problem, remember? Do you think we should try it in Parseltongue? If I'm wrong, six weeks worth of our translations could get mixed back in the chest."

The protective spell Slytherin had put on the parchments was so strong that the ancient paper repelled new ink. They couldn't even mark the scrolls they'd translated as done. So far, they'd encountered only three of the documents they'd translated in the first two weeks of lost work. Harry himself was useless at recognizing the work they'd already done. It was all gibberish to him. It usually took even Severus a few minutes to notice the repetition. If they lost the six weeks worth of work they had, it would cost them a lot of time.

Severus' expression was very soft as he replied, "We should try it."

"Now?" Harry asked, nervous. He really didn't want to see all their work go flying back into the chest as it had last time.

Severus nodded. "One way or the other, we'll be done for the night. Go on. Try it."

"I, er, need a snake or serpent to look at."

Severus pulled out his wand and muttered a quick spell. An instant later, the inkwell on their workbench transformed into a stunningly beautiful ring necked snake.

Harry took a moment to admire its sleek black body and the bright red band around its neck. Staring into the reptile's flat, glistening black eyes, he said what he thought was "Accio any parchment with the word 'vampire' or a derivative of 'vampire' on it." The words came out as something like, "Sssssh sharrr haasshsharssssh shesharra shesssssssh."

Harry held his breath.

At first it seemed nothing happened and then they heard the parchments in the open chest to their right begin to stir just as they had when all their work had flown back into the trunk. Unlike last time, the huge stack of parchments under the heavy paperweight to the left of Severus' elbow didn't budge.

Harry watched Slytherin's work form a funnel-like whirlwind that swept round and round the limited confines of the trunk. After a minute or so, five scrolls separated from the swirling mass and floated to Harry. Barely able to believe it, he reached out to pluck the parchments from the air.

Harry quickly scanned the paper on top, "This is a wart cure that mentions a . . . vampire spider?"

Severus nodded.

Harry pulled up the next scroll. "This one seems to be an insecticide that uses – "

"Vampire vine," Severus guessed.

"Yes." Harry turned to the third parchment in his hand and froze as he read the first few lines. "This is it."

"What is it – a spell or potion?" Severus questioned.

"A potion," Harry answered slowly, turning to the next scroll below the one in his hand, and then the one under that. "Actually, all three of these pages are the cure."

"The cure is a potion that's six feet long?" Severus sounded shocked.

"No, it's a series of potions. It's on a lunar cycle. There's a potion for each day," Harry absently replied as his attention focused on something he was sure he must be misreading.

"So I will have to take a potion for twenty-eight days to be cured?" Severus questioned, looking both eager and anxious.

"Er, no. Apparently, I'll have to take it," Harry softly replied, once he was sure of what he was reading.

"What?!" Severus' dark eyebrows arched towards his hairline.

"According to this, in order for the potion to work, it has to be filtered through a blood donor's system." Reading fast, Harry explained. "It says that the donor takes the potion each morning at sunrise, and then the vampire feeds on his blood each night. There's a potion for each phase of the moon, although they all seem to have a similar base. On the last day – " Harry broke off to reread that part two more times. God, this section was scary. Getting a hold of himself, he continued, "On the last day, I drink the potion at sunrise as normal, only . . . I drink your blood right after taking it. Slytherin says that the changes wrought by your feeding on me daily after I've taken the potion will have altered your blood chemistry dramatically by then and that I won't be changed. It says that we have to wait until sunset for my system to filter the potion and your blood together. Then you feed off me, and you're cured."

There was complete silence beside him.

Harry was too busy processing what needed to be done to even think about his lover's reaction. If he wanted Severus cured, he was going to have to drink a vampire's blood. Somehow, he'd never imagined anything like that when Severus had mentioned the lost cure.

Obviously, Severus hadn't either, were his horrified expression any indication.

After a prolonged pause, Severus said, "Absolutely not."

"Severus – "

"I've never turned anyone. I don't intend to start with you. If this potion doesn't work or if I make a mistake in the brewing, you will be damned as I am." Severus' face was pale and strained.

"I'm willing to take the chance," Harry gently insisted, Severus' reluctance giving him the strength to rise above his own fears. He could do this – for Severus. If the cure didn't work . . . he refused to continue that line of thought. The cure had to work. That was all that was to it.

"I'm not," Severus said, getting quickly to his feet and stalking from the room.

"Severus! Severus!"

Harry heard the outer door to their quarters slam shut.

Sighing, he went back to the potion's first page and began the tedious task of dictating it to the charmed quill.

*****

Two hours later, Severus had yet to return.

The translation finally complete, Harry carefully put his notes away and closed up the research room.

He'd worked a full day and spent the last seven hours working on these parchments. He was utterly exhausted. He eyed their bedroom door longingly, and then headed out the sitting room's front door to find his lover.

The late June night was warm and clear. He shrank his robes and put them in the pocket of his jeans. His blue Muggle tee-shirt was far more suitable to the early summer night.

Having an idea where to look, Harry started down the moonlit lake path. It seemed like forever since he'd felt the night against his skin. A gentle breeze blew over his face and arms. It carried the damp living scents of the forest to his right and the clean fresh smell of the water. For some reason, the scent reminded him of Severus.

His mind was churning with plans and possible pitfalls to the cure as he walked through the darkness. The translated cure had made it plain that this wasn't something that should be lightly entered into. Beyond the chance of Severus' blood transforming him into a vampire, there was the fact that the daily dose of potion sounded as though it would make him sick as a dog every time he took it, and he'd have to take it for twenty-eight days straight.

Sighing, he stared out over the water. The lake was a slick shiny black that reminded him of obsidian and Severus' eyes. The full moon's reflection followed him as he walked along the muddy path with a soft breeze playing through the tall swaying reeds at the lake edge.

It was nearly a half hour's walk to that spot where he'd found Severus the last time his lover had retreated like this. True to habit, Severus was there. Even at a distance he could see Severus' longish hair and black robes gently fluttering in the balmy breeze.

Something inside him relaxed when he caught sight of that slender silhouette.

Harry climbed up onto the flat boulder where Severus was standing and stopped just short of touching distance. "It's nice out here. We should come here more often."

No response. Severus' face was a study in tense lines, his expression stormy and forbidding.

"We knew it wouldn't be easy," Harry said after a while. "There had to be a reason for something that's only been done once in the whole of history."

"I won't risk you," Severus said at last, still not looking at him.

"And I don't want to risk you, but that's what happens every time you step off the castle grounds. That has to stop. We have a cure now. A few hours ago, you were willing to chance anything to get better," he reminded.

"That was when I was the one who would be paying the price. If I poisoned or killed myself with some crackpot cure, it would have been worth it. But I can't involve you in that."

"I'm already involved. Don't you understand? I love you!"

"And what kind of love would it be, I wonder, that would allow you to damn yourself for its sake?" Severus tiredly replied.

It took him a moment to realize what Severus had just said. In a hushed tone, Harry commented, "That's the first time you've ever admitted to loving me."

Severus swung around to face him so suddenly that he took an instinctive step back. Those dark eyes glittered down at him as dark and bright as the lake behind them, filled with a desperate love and frustration. "Admit to loving you? You're the only joy I've ever known in my life. I would die for you."

"Aren't I allowed to feel the same way? Wouldn't you do this to help me?" Harry demanded, taking hold of Severus' elbows. Severus was choosing a death sentence – for his sake. "In fact, you did do it for me, remember? When you sucked the poison from the Acid Wheeler out of me."

"The circumstances were entirely different. You were in mortal peril," Severus argued.

"And so are you. Every time you leave the school. You're in pain all the time. I'd do anything to stop that. I want us both to live. Together. This is our chance for a normal life. Please, Severus?" he begged, reaching up to stroke Severus' cheek.

"And if the potion fails and you're turned? What kind of life would that be? What will you do then?"

Trying to stay as calm as he could, Harry steadily replied, "Walk the night with you, for as long as we have. But that's not going to happen. You're the greatest potion master of the age. Just like Salazar was in his day. You won't make a mistake. It will work."

"It will work only if Slytherin's notes are accurate," Severus softly qualified. "The potion masters were so jealous of their discoveries back then that they often sabotaged their records by leaving important steps out or making ingredient substitutions that could lead to disaster in the hands of the ignorant."

"I hadn't thought of that," Harry admitted. "But if Slytherin had done that, would he have been guarding the potion so carefully? Think about it. Anyone who found that potion would have to get past a basilisk, be Slytherin's heir, and speak Parseltongue. Why would he do something that would jeopardize his own blood after going to all that trouble to preserve his work for them?"

"Spite?" Severus suggested. "Envy of those who lived on once he died? How should I know? All I know is – "

"That you're afraid," Harry gently said. "I am, too. I'm not stupid. I know this is bloody insane and dangerous as all hell, but . . . I want you to have a normal life. You're hurting all the time. That isn't right."

"I've managed for thirty years. I can do thirty more if I have to," Severus dug his heels in.

"That's fine for you, but what about me?" he softly argued.

"You?" Severus blankly repeated.

"We can't even go out to dinner in town without taking the risk that there will be one of those damn vampire detectors being tried out. I'm scared all the time for you, Severus, and . . . this is a way to stop the fear."

"By killing you or worse," Severus said.

"Possibly, but I don't think your Salazar would do that, not after all the trouble he took to ensure that only his heirs would have access to his work. Please, give us the chance for a normal life?"

"I couldn't live with myself if something were to happen to you because of me," Severus said.

Those words weren't simple hyperbole. Harry knew it would kill Severus if Slytherin's cure cost him either his life or his humanity.

"Then we live or die together," Harry said. "Is that truly so horrible?"

Severus' eyes were dark as the night around them. "You're not understanding me. I don't want to be the cause of your death. You shouldn't even be here with me. You should be with someone young and human who – "

He laid his hand across Severus' mouth to stop the words. "I love you – only you. That isn't going to change, ever. Please do this for me?"

Harry lifted his hand from Severus' tight clenched lips.

"It isn't fair of you to ask that," Severus said.

"I know. But I'm asking it anyway. If you love me, prove it to me. Do it – for me. Do it for us."

"I won't prove my love to you by damning you!" Severus said. "Absolutely not!"

"Then I'll brew the god damned potion myself and take it. If I have to, I'll put you under Imperius and force the cure down your throat," he glared up at Severus' utterly miserable eyes.

"You're not going to abandon this insane idea, are you?" Severus asked, his entire attitude defeated.

"No. It's the only chance we've got. We have to try it," Harry insisted.

"And it doesn't matter to you that I would rather die whatever death that awaits me than endanger you. It doesn't matter that I don't want to do this – at all. My wishes are of no importance to you whatsoever?"

"It matters," Harry whispered, "but – "

"But you'll force the issue anyway," Severus finished. "Even if it kills one or both of us and destroys what we feel for each other?"

"If I have to," Harry answered, a familiar, grim determination settling over him. He, too, knew how to be stubborn when he had to be.

Straightening up to his full height, Severus glared down at him. "You haven't changed at all, have you? You're still a spoiled brat who has to have his way in everything. Understand this, I'm not doing this. If you persist in trying to force me, you can take your things and clear out of here in the morning."

Then Severus turned without another word and started stalking back to the castle.

Stunned by the threat, Harry hurried to catch up, but it seemed that Severus was a step ahead of him and a continent away emotionally for the entire trip back to the dungeons.

"Are you seriously throwing me out?" Harry challenged as they strode the empty lake path back to the castle. But Severus didn't answer him. He simply kept walking.

It being long past midnight, at least they didn't pass a soul on the way home. Severus would probably have given the unfortunate student detention for life just for crossing their path.

The mood lasted until they were back in their bedroom and stripping for bed. Harry kept glancing at Severus' closed off face, hoping for a sign of a thaw, but his lover still looked completely barricaded.

Harry hadn't forgotten that it was a feeding night, even if Severus appeared to have.

Finally naked, they climbed into bed on their opposite sides of the big four-poster with its lush green sheets. For the first time ever, Severus didn't turn to face him. Harry stared at that narrow, bare back deliberately turned to him and sighed.

Everything was always so hard with Severus. Aside from the sex, nothing came easy to them.

Harry waited until it became clear that Severus wasn't going to make the first move. Unable to take the distance between them a moment longer, he reached out and laid his palm on Severus' warm shoulder.

Severus flinched as though he'd flicked him with a whip. The lean form next to him seemed to draw in on itself, although Severus never moved a muscle to increase the space between them.

"I know this wasn't what you were hoping for," Harry said, rubbing his hand up and down that tense arm. "I'm sorry."

"Does that mean you'll allow this subject to drop and never mention it again?" Severus asked in a heartbreakingly hopeful tone.

"No. It just means I'm sorry you're upset. I still want us to do it," he told Severus' stiff back. "Are you really throwing me out?"

Severus said nothing for a long moment, but then he turned over abruptly. His lover's face was set in furious lines that Harry hadn't seen since his schooldays as Severus declared, "If you try to make me do this, we're through. I spent most of my adult life being a pawn to more powerful wizards. I'm not about to become yours as well. I won't live with someone who doesn't care about my wishes. So think hard on this, Potter. Is it worth losing what we have? Because, I promise you, that is what will happen if you try to force this issue."

Even though Severus had been voicing a similar threat since he had become so angry at the lake, it shook Harry to hear that kind of ultimatum. Harry knew that Severus loved him and that the threat was made out of fear for his safety, but he also knew that Severus was one of the most maliciously stubborn men on the planet. Their love had never been pitted against Severus' pride before. If Severus made this kind of ultimatum, he might follow through on it, no matter if the cure worked or not.

That was just a chance he was going to have to take, Harry realized. "If you really feel that way, I'll leave the morning after you're cured. But I'm not leaving before that and we're doing it."

"And they complain about Slytherin arrogance," Severus said. "If you persist along these lines, I will change my security wards so that you no longer have entrance to these chambers."

Harry glared at that angry, unpleasant face that he'd come to love. "Fine. I'll ask Minerva for rooms in Gryffindor Tower. I'll brew the damn potion myself and put you under Imperius to administer it if I have to, but you are going to take it."

"Am I, now?" Severus asked in a dangerous tone that sent a shiver down Harry's spine.

This was not the way he'd wanted this to go. But he couldn't back down. Severus' life was at stake. "Yes, you are. We haven't come this far together to give up now. We're doing this. I know you're angry with me, but I love you and I'm not going to lose you. Not when there's something I can do to prevent it."

"Love? You don't know what the word means," Severus spat.

Somehow, Harry managed to bite back his angry retort. Instead, he replied, "Maybe you're right. It's not like I ever had much experience with it. You're the only person I've ever felt this way about. But I've lost everyone else I've ever cared about, and I'm not losing you."

"Do not even attempt to play on my sympathies," Severus said with scathing sarcasm.

"That would be useless, wouldn't it? You haven't got any when you get like this," he shot back.

"And I suppose that threatening me with Imperius if I refuse to bow to your will is deemed considerate by Gryffindors?" Severus challenged.

His mouth was open with an angry comeback on his lips when Severus' words penetrated. He'd threatened Severus with an Unforgivable. Was it any wonder the man was angry?

Harry took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to step back from his own fury. "I'm sorry. You're right. I lost my head. I should never have said that."

He almost felt like he was dealing with the Snape of his childhood, the petty, explosive man that he never knew how to act around. There was no give at all in Severus' gaze; his eyes remained hard as unpolished diamonds. But this was the same Severus he'd woken up next to this morning. No matter how angry Severus might seem at the moment, Harry knew that no argument could make their love disappear in an instant. Severus might be mad enough to kill him right now, but under it he still loved him. Six months of hard work couldn't go away this fast; it just couldn't.

Severus' piercing glare didn't alter in the least. "Is an insincere apology supposed to make everything better? You're too powerful a wizard to make that type of idle threat simply because you're not getting your own way. I suggest you grow up, Potter, before you make that kind of arrogant mistake with the wrong person and are taught the errors of your ways."

"Like you?" Harry challenged in a dismissive manner, hating that snide tone of Severus' that had tormented him through his entire time at Hogwarts.

Clearly, they still had a talent for hurting each other. Fighting just came too easily to them both. Harry couldn't seem to stop himself any more than Severus could. They always pushed each other to extremes. That had worked in their favour these last few months of growing closer together, but it was far too easy to fall into the old patterns. It was only after his words were out that Harry realized that he'd gone too far.

At Harry's almost taunting question, Severus' eyes flashed with something wild and utterly feral. For a moment, Severus lay there, fury blazing in his dark eyes as his magic crackled threateningly around them. Harry was wondering if Severus were about to lose control and strike out at him with wandless magic when Severus muttered an enraged, "Why you little – " and struck physically.

Before Harry even knew what was happening, he found himself pinned to the bed. He felt like a Norwegian Ridgeback had landed upon him – or the vampire Severus was – as he was crushed by that taller, unnaturally powerful form.

His lover seemed nearly insane at the moment. There was so much impotent rage on Severus' face that it was terrifying. But when he looked deep into those insensible eyes, Severus' tormented gaze held a fear that Harry had never seen in this man.

The wild emotions ripping through Severus tore at his heart. He'd done this to Severus. He'd pushed this normally controlled man past his limits.

"Severus?" he called.

There was no answer.

A cold shiver skittered through Harry when he noticed those porcelain white fang tips sticking out of Severus' mouth. His lover's adrenaline level had to be through the roof for that to happen.

"Severus? I'm sorry. Really sorry. Please . . . try to calm down . . . ." Harry had the horrible feeling that he was dealing with that feral, ravenous hunter that drove Severus to leave their bed several nights a week, the monster Severus was afraid of losing himself to.

Harry belatedly recognized his peril. He hadn't been able to keep his mouth shut. He'd had to push it. He couldn't help but wonder if he was going to pay for his stupidity with his life. At least, he hoped that would be what happened if this situation went bad. There were far worse things Severus could do to him than simply drain him dry.

He half-expected Severus to lunge for his throat, but that didn't happen.

Instead, Severus' mouth swooped down to cover his own with bruising force.

The razor edge of one of those fangs pierced his rapidly swelling lip as they banged together and Severus started to suck at the small hurt.

Totally panicked, Harry wondered if Severus would rip his mouth apart to feed, but once the blood stopped on its own, Severus did nothing to make the bleeding start up again.

Severus' lips clung to his in brutal desperation. All the anger, fear, and worry his lover was experiencing seemed to have been translated into sudden, frantic aggression. Those inhumanly powerful hands gripped his shoulders in a punishing hold. Severus kissed him as though he'd suck the life right out of him, with more resentment than Harry had ever imagined a mouth that was kissing him could encompass.

The part of him that concerned itself with his survival was long past panic and well on its way to terror. He'd just taunted a hungry, angry vampire into feeding on him. That wasn't the smartest move he'd ever made, he recognized. Severus had never touched him with anything but gentleness during a feeding. This was scary.

It had only happened once or twice in the six months they'd been together, but normally, the instant Severus smelt fear on him, Severus would immediately stop whatever they were doing until Harry calmed. But Severus didn't stop tonight. To the contrary, Severus kissed him more forcefully, as though Harry's fear were exciting him.

Harry gasped for breath, trying to get control of the situation, or if that failed, at least get a handle on his own fright. But Severus was plundering his mouth with a savagery that nearly felt like a rape and he couldn't think. All he could do was react.

His heart beating madly, Harry tried to gentle the kiss, tried to slow things down for both their sakes, but Severus was having none of it. His lover was simply too angry with him for any kind of moderation or sanity to prevail.

Which left Harry with the choice of having to try to fight Severus off in earnest or play along with him. He could petrify Severus with a thought, but Severus still needed to feed. And, despite all the fury he could feel in his upset lover, Severus really hadn't done anything to actually hurt him.

Harry knew deep inside that if he had to use magic to subdue his overwrought lover that Severus would never forgive himself when he came to his senses. He didn't want Severus to push him away for his own safety. They were already too close to that happening now, given the argument that had driven Severus to this state. He didn't want to do anything to add to that problem, but he didn't want this violence, either.

Resolved to weather the storm, to use no magic unless absolutely necessary, unless Severus really tried to hurt him or drain him dry, Harry tangled his fingers in Severus' dark fall of unwashed hair and kissed him back for all he was worth.

He hoped that his participation would mollify Severus, but those lips still kneaded his own with bruising force. Trying to gentle Severus' ferocity, he rubbed his palms over Severus' slender back in what he hoped were calming circles, but all efforts seemed useless.

When Severus grabbed hold of his wrists and made to pin them at his sides, Harry had had enough. He might be a lot shorter than Severus, but the physicality of his work as an Auror and his weekly quidditch games had left him fit and surprisingly powerful. Using the advantage of surprise and what little leverage his bottom position afforded, he quickly tossed Severus off him.

Quick as lightning striking, Severus turned back to him, hunched on hands and feet, his muscles tensed like a long, dark serpent about to strike.

Harry couldn't help but shiver as he took in his lover's face. Severus' fangs were still extended. The only word Harry could use to describe Severus' expression at the moment was feral. Severus didn't quite hiss at him like that vampire had back in January, but his teeth were bared menacingly and he had the look about him of a wild beast deprived of its food.

"That's enough!" His own temper rising by the second, Harry sat up and glared at the other man. A petrifaction spell on his lips, he waited to see what Severus' next move would be.

To his utter relief, Severus blinked as though he didn't know where he was and sagged from his pre-pounce into a sitting position.

"A-are you injured?" Severus whispered, seeming to take stock of Harry's expression and their respective positions.

Too angry to trust his voice, Harry gave a tight, negative shake of his head. When he thought he could speak without shouting, he hissed out, "No thanks to you. What the fuck just happened here?"

Severus' eyes squeezed tightly shut. Severus' teeth were still extended, but they didn't look threatening anymore. As Harry watched, Severus' lips tried to close over his fangs, as if to hide them.

Taking in the lowered head and dark fall of hair veiling Severus' face, Harry tried to calm himself. Another shouting match wasn't going to do either of them any good.

"Severus?" he asked in a less aggressive tone.

"You should leave," Severus' low, empty whisper was raising the hackles on his neck. It sounded utterly devoid of life and hope.

Glad to have a Severus that he recognized back, Harry drew in a deep breath and ran a hand through his ragged hair. "I think you owe me an explanation. I've never seen you like that before. What happened?"

Severus' bleak gaze met his own. Harry saw his lover's Adam's apple bob in what seemed a very loud swallow. Looking close, he could see that Severus was breathing faster than normal, almost panting.

"Severus?" Harry couldn't help himself. He'd known this man for nearly twenty years and he'd never once seen Severus look this lost or upset. He slid closer to Severus and laid a tentative hand on his lover's arm. "What is it? Please tell me what's going on with you?"

Severus' entire body seemed to vibrate under Harry's hand. The gaze that met his own was beyond troubled. The sheer desperation and misery in those dark eyes killed the last of Harry's anger. Whatever the problem, it was clear Severus was hurting from it – hurting badly.

Severus swallowed again and rasped out, "It's . . .too much. I can't – "

Harry took a deep breath himself and asked the question he'd never thought he'd have to ask with Severus, "Do you want to hurt me – punish me? Is that what this is about?"

Severus winced and gave a negative shake of his head. "No, but . . . you should leave all the same. Please – I can't . . . ."

"Ssssh," Harry soothed, drawing Severus into his arms. Severus' longer arms banded him almost painfully tight as Severus buried his face in the nook of Harry's neck. "It's all right." Feeling the tremors coursing through Severus' long-limbed form, he gently asked, " Did we wait too long? Is it hunger?"

Harry realized that Severus usually fed well before nine on feeding nights; it was after one AM now.

"In part," Severus breathed shakily into his neck. "It's . . . like a storm raging inside me. I can't control . . . ."

Shame seemed to stop Severus from continuing. Harry could hear it in Severus' expressive voice.

He supposed that it really wasn't all that surprising that Severus' controls had slipped tonight. They'd both been under way too much stress searching for Slytherin's cure in that trunk-load of ancient parchments. They'd been subsisting on less than five hours sleep a night for weeks now. For Severus to finally uncover the cure, after all their hard work, only to discover that it involved something morally repugnant to his nature must have been devastating. Add to that bitter disappointment the constant hunger Severus was under, his fear for Harry's safety should they attempt the cure, plus the anger and adrenaline generated by their argument, the only wonder was that Severus had held it together as long as he had.

Harry stroked over Severus' sleek back. He didn't know if his touch and continued presence were helping, but he couldn't just leave, even if Severus wanted him to. He didn't know where this would lead him, but when faced with Severus' pain, he couldn't hold anything back. "Then stop fighting it."

Severus hissed in a shocked breath. "I can't. I need . . . ."

Still keeping physical contact with his lover, Harry pushed Severus' up and back so that they could see each other's faces. "You need to feed and we both need to sleep."

"You don't understand," Severus whispered. "I – "

Holding those tormented black eyes, Harry reached deep inside himself and found the strength that had carried him through the worst days of his life. Whatever was going on inside Severus had obviously unnerved his lover as much as it had him. He knew he was taking a chance here, that Severus could lose it totally after the unrelenting pressures he'd been under, but in his heart of hearts, Harry knew that Severus would never intentionally harm him. "Take whatever you need. Just . . . don't pin me down or force me like you did before, okay? That was . . . scary."

Severus' eyes widened in shock. "You can't mean that you intend to – "

Harry cut off the rest of the protest by the simple expedient of kissing his lover.

That startled Severus. For a moment, Severus remained tense in his arms, and then he opened his mouth to kiss Harry back.

Any lingering worries that Harry might have had began to recede as the aphrodisiac in Severus' saliva had its way with him. He could feel Severus' desperation in the way his lips and hands clung to him in almost frantic need. But even though he was clearly still in emotional distress, Severus seemed to be going out of his way to not hurt him, and that was really all that mattered. They could work around anything else, but he couldn't handle either the incipient violence of their last attempt or the idea of a lover getting off on his fear or pain.

The kiss continued much longer than usual, probably longer than was strictly safe, but Harry made no effort to pull back. Severus wasn't hurting him. The sensations might be a little wild, but they weren't frightening. To the contrary, the prolonged exposure to that aphrodisiac was turning him on hard and fast.

Harry's head started to swim as it always did after this much uninterrupted contact with his lover's saliva. Normally, Severus would pull back about now, but Severus just kept kissing him, and Harry's own senses became a dizzying whirl of driving need. He was nearly nauseated from the resulting dizziness when Severus' mouth finally moved from his lips to his throat.

That incredible licking over his jugular completed what the prolonged kiss had begun. Harry's body melted under the delight raging through him. He was utterly lost to sensation. Inarticulate sounds of need were ripped right out of him as that talented tongue at his throat undid him with merciless skill.

As ever when Severus fed, Harry’s perceptions of pleasure were expanded astronomically as the sensations rampaged through him. After the initial sharp prick of Severus' fangs piercing the tender skin of his throat, that familiar, welcome, heady warmth spread out from his neck in jolting pulses that went straight to his groin as Severus began to suck.

It might all be vampire chemistry, but it was the most erotic sensation imaginable, feeling his lover feed at his neck like that. Harry gave up trying to fight or moderate what was happening. Whatever Severus wanted, he'd give it to him, whether it be his blood or his very life. Everything he was opened up and embraced Severus. His arms tightened around the vampire's slender chest, while his legs twined around Severus' longer ones. He flew higher and higher, drunk on sensation, high on his love for this difficult, overwrought man.

All too soon, the sucking at his throat stopped and Harry felt the familiar parting lapping. He hated losing the delicious eroticism of that intimate contact, but Severus made up for the disappointment by taking his mouth again in a deep kiss.

Severus didn't usually do that after feeding. Normally, Severus would roll them back over, spread his legs, and invite Harry to take him. But tonight, there was nothing the least bit submissive about Severus.

Harry was relieved to realize that Severus didn't seem either distraught or angry with him anymore. The hands moving over him weren't rough, just possessive. That frantic need to touch him still seemed to be there in Severus' caresses, but Harry liked that.

Still locked in that dizzying kiss, their tongues slid across each other in a slippery dance that pushed Harry higher and higher. Harry could taste the metallic flavour of his own blood lingering in Severus' mouth. It was sort of disgusting, but also a turn on in a bizarre way.

Actually, everything was a turn on when he was in contact with that magical saliva. Severus had never kissed him this steadily before. Between his own helpless arousal and the effects of that aphrodisiac, Harry was about ready to spontaneously combust.

Severus' hand left where it was tangled in his hair to reach for something. Since the kiss deepened at the same time to send his senses reeling further into ecstasy, Harry only vaguely noticed his lover fumbling around. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. All that mattered was this kiss.

Harry was about to orgasm just from the contact of their mouths, when Severus lifted himself up off him a bit. Fingers stroked between his thighs, sowing utter anarchy in his mind. Harry immediately spread his legs to allow those skilled purveyors of pleasure access to the part of him that was demanding the most attention.

He cried out as Severus stroked his cock. He was seconds away from coming, but Severus seemed to sense that.

Severus' hand left his shaft to stroke lower, fondling his tight balls, then Severus' other hand slid under his left hip, and he found himself being lifted up. His knees were pressed tight to his chest to expose his buttocks as Severus' fingers stroked between his cheeks.

The sensation exploded through him. Severus had never touched him there, not once in the six months they'd been lovers. Harry shuddered, his body wanting things he'd never needed before. And still that mouth plundered his own, the vampire saliva making him high, and dizzy, and pliable.

Harry sobbed into the kiss as those fingers abandoned him. Some more fumbling followed, and then the fingers returned with a thick gob of gel on them. The longest of Severus' slender fingers, his middle one, circled the spot that suddenly had replaced Harry's cock in the needing-attention-most contest.

He'd never been so viscerally aware of anything in his life as he was of that thin digit sliding up into him. It was a strange sensation, but not an unpleasant one. Vivisection wouldn't be unpleasant while Severus was kissing him like this, Harry ruefully acknowledged.

Severus appeared to know what he was doing. After a few moments of circling to loosen the tract that had tightened around its unexpected visitor like a vice, Severus pushed further in. The tip of his lover's finger touched a spot deep within him, and skyrockets blasted off behind Harry's closed eyes.

The intense bursts of pleasure liquefied him as those new sensations rocked through him. It was like orgasm, only more intense and concentrated.

Harry made a whimpering sound into Severus' mouth as the finger withdrew, but it returned almost immediately with a companion. He moaned and gasped into the unending kiss as Severus' fingers scissored open and closed to carefully stretch him. Every now and then, Severus would hold his fingers tightly together to stroke that magic spot to send him flying.

Harry was reeling from the kiss, high on sex and vampire chemistry, when Severus' fingers withdrew for the second time.

Severus shifted and then Harry felt the blunt tip of Severus' uncircumcised cock press against his sphincter, and still Severus' mouth continued to knead against his own in inciting hunger.

His lover's shaft felt huge. It was quite a stretch to accommodate it. Going in, it burnt some, but Severus' tongue continued to thrust into his mouth with a generous supply of the aphrodisiacal saliva, and within moments the pain no longer mattered.

Once that thick cock hit his prostate, his world was changed forever. Harry had thought that he'd felt every kind of pleasure a man could experience in his last six months with Severus, but he found he was sadly mistaken. He didn't know anything. Severus' fingers had been a sweet prelude to the most stunningly sensual delight he could imagine.

The ecstasy ripped through Harry's body, almost too fierce to bear. He exploded all over his belly the first time Severus collided with his prostate. Every subsequent bump made him try to convulse in climax again and again. When Severus began a steady thrusting, he was utterly lost.

Severus' slick tongue mimicked the action down below, thrusting deep into Harry's mouth every time Severus' shaft jolted him into another plane of being. With every tongue thrust, he received another gift of that mind-altering saliva. He'd never been this high on anything in his life. He felt like he was dying or being born. The delight was that transcendental.

It seemed to go on forever. Then Severus stilled inside him, and Harry sensed rather than felt, his lover's climax.

Severus' mouth broke free and a startling scream filled the wildly spinning room.

Harry's last semi-coherent thought was that he hadn't believed Severus could make a sound like that. Then the by now familiar darkness closed in around him.

*****

When Harry awoke, he sensed it was morning. His head felt like it might roll right off his shoulders if he moved too suddenly, and his stomach was slurping around in an alarming manner.

The first thing he saw was Severus in his green dressing gown, sitting stiffly at his side on the bed, staring down at him. Actually, it looked like only Severus' head was there, his pale face floating in front of him as his lover's robe covered body blended in with the bed's drapes.

Once Harry's eyes were open, Severus reached out to cup the back of his skull and raise it up, which was an agony in itself. But since the familiar scent of the restorative drought Severus gave him after feeding nights tickled his sinuses, he didn't make a protest. He swallowed the bitter liquid down with a sigh when the vial was pressed to his lips. Then Severus carefully lowered his head back to the pillow.

"Good morning," Harry said when he thought he could risk it without anything too horrible happening to either his head or stomach. His brain really hadn't kicked in yet, for he'd asked, "Hey, what's wrong?" before he recalled their argument, last night's almost violent coupling, and Severus' threat of their being over if Harry insisted on going through with Slytherin's cure.

"Aside from the fact that I forced you into contact with my narcotic saliva for nearly thirty minutes and then plundered your innocence, not a thing." Severus didn't look away. His eyes were deeply troubled. In fact, he looked physically ill, which he shouldn't after a feeding night.

Harry's brain was slow catching up. He wasn't sure how to proceed. They'd skirted the fine edge of violence last night. Their initial sexual interaction hadn't been rape, but it had been damn close. If he'd been just a little more frightened or Severus a tad angrier, or if he hadn't been able to stop the proceedings, the night might have ended in disaster.

With a sickening lurch, Harry recognized that nothing had been settled. They were basically right where they'd been last night before going to bed – with Severus threatening to throw him out if he insisted on going through with the cure. Unfortunately, last night had only convinced him all the more about how desperately they needed to try Slytherin's potion.

"It wasn't all your fault. We were both angry," Harry said, sitting up so that they were on a level. He stared into Severus' pale face and added, "I'm sort of surprised to see you here. I thought you might have pulled a vanishing act after last night to drive home your point."

"I considered it," Severus softly said.

"Why didn't you?"

"What would we have left if I hadn't been here after what I did to you last night?" Severus questioned, looking as if his very heart were bleeding. The fact that Severus wanted there to be something left between them was immensely encouraging. "There was no excuse for what I did – "

"You didn't hurt me," Harry cut in before Severus could continue. "And you stopped – "

"When you tossed me off like the wild animal I was," Severus interrupted. His eyes were so filled with self-loathing that Harry could barely stand to meet them.

"I told you to take what you needed, and you did. You didn't hear me complaining, did you?" Harry asked.

"You couldn't complain. That is the purpose of those pheromones – to make the vampire's victim as pliable and incapable of resisting as possible. I used you like prey." Severus' disgust with himself was almost palpable.

"No, you didn't. It might have started out that way, but it changed. Severus . . . you didn't hurt me . . . ."

"Only because . . . you took pity on my plight and offered me succour. If you hadn't –"

Hating how wrong everything seemed to be going, Harry objected, "It wasn't pity. What hurts you hurts me."

He just wasn't getting through. Severus' face was almost ashen with self-disgust as he said in a low, slightly bewildered voice, "I – I've never lost control like that before."

"Hey, neither of us is exactly blameless here. Yes, you lost control, but so did I. It was a feeding night. I knew how upset and hungry you were, and I just kept on pushing you. We both know exactly what buttons to push to hurt each other," Harry said.

"That's no excuse. You could have been killed – or worse." Severus looked as though he might be sick to his stomach. "I could smell your fear and it just made me wilder."

Harry took a deep breath. "Look, I don't think that you have it in you to really hurt me, but . . . you scared me last night. We've always had a passionate and tumultuous relationship. We're going to fight over things; that's just part of life, but . . . we can't risk your losing it like that every time we have a lovers' spat. Sooner or later, one of us is going to end up getting hurt."

Seeming beyond mortification, Severus gave a stiff nod of agreement. He looked more frightened than Harry had felt last night. Harry couldn't imagine what it must be like for a person to have that kind of monster inside himself that he had to fight every single minute of the day and night to control.

"There's only one way to guarantee this doesn't happen again," Harry softly said.

Severus lowered his gaze as he suggested in a tight voice, "By your leaving?"

Last night Severus had been the one threatening to toss him out and change the wards to bar him admittance. It was only now that Harry realized how much it had taken for Severus to make that ultimatum.

He took hold of Severus' cold hand, which made those averted eyes leap to his face in obvious astonishment. "No. Even if I left, there would be no guarantee that this wouldn't happen with someone else. The only way to make sure you never lose control like that again is to eliminate the problem. We have to try Slytherin's cure. You know I'm right."

The instinctive protest that flared in Severus' eyes was never voiced. After a long, strained silence, Severus said, "There is another option. I could turn myself over to the authorities."

If he'd learned one thing last night, it was not to push when Severus made those kinds of wild threats. Giving Severus' hand, which he still held in his own, a squeeze, Harry quietly asked, "Have you any idea how much that would hurt me?"

"I suspect it would be a similar experience to that which I would endure were my blood to turn you," Severus levelly replied. "It appears we have reached a stalemate again."

Thinking fast, Harry shook his head. "Maybe not. Look, I . . . think maybe you're right about some things."

"Such as?" Severus suspiciously questioned.

"The chance that the potion's been booby-trapped. It is stupid to just rush into this. I think we should do it, but do it carefully. The cure takes 28 days to work. It isn't until the last day that I have to drink your blood. I think we should follow Slytherin's instructions until that last day and see what happens. His notes say that as the potion progresses, your vampire characteristics will start to fade. If we see that happening, we'll follow through with the cure as it's written. But if there doesn't seem to be any change in you, we'll give the entire idea up and I'll never mention it to you again."

Severus was quiet for a long time. Finally, he said, "Were we to do this – and I'm not saying we will – if there's no change in my constitution, you will have poisoned yourself for weeks for no reason."

"I'm willing to take that risk. Will you do it?" Harry asked.

"Are you giving me a choice here?" Severus questioned, an intense and wary expression coming over his face.

Remembering that it had been the threat of Imperius and compulsion that had precipitated Severus' loss of control last night, Harry bit back hard on his impulse to force the issue again. "Yes. If you really don't want to, I won't force you. We'll continue to muddle along as we have and hope that we don't fight too much."

The veiled reminder of what had occurred after last night's argument was well chosen. Severus' eyes lowered, his expression tightening as though he were in actual pain.

Harry didn't like causing his lover that kind of distress, but he wanted Severus to recognize that there was still a real risk to him should they refuse to try Slytherin's cure.

"Touché," Severus said at last. "We will try it. But if there is no change in my constitution, we will not go through with the final stage – agreed?"

Harry heaved a relieved sigh, gave a ready nod, a soft, "Thank you," and then leaned forward to kiss Severus.

Severus' initial resistance gave way after a moment and his upset lover sagged against him, burying his face in the crook of his neck once they withdrew from the kiss.

They clung to each other in helpless need, both seeming too scared to let go. Finally, Severus pulled back, seeming much more himself.

"You should eat," Severus said, still clearly worried about his physical condition.

"Okay," Harry agreed as they got up.

With the argument finally over, Severus handed him his blue robe and they moved to the sitting room.

Severus had apparently asked the house elves to set up a small table with two chairs in front of the hearth. The covered silver platters with their warming spells were releasing the fragrant smell of bacon, bangers, and eggs.

"If we're doing this, I should examine the potion," Severus said as he moved towards his chair.

Barely able to believe that Severus wasn't making him pay bitterly for this victory, Harry quickly summoned the translation he'd made of Slytherin's vampire cure. "I checked the translation twice last night, but we should go over it again today, just to be sure."

Harry lifted the silver covers from the food trays and put them on a nearby side table. Filling his plate with the scrumptious smelling food, he sat down and eagerly dug in. Glancing over at Severus, he realized that he probably should have waited until his lover had finished eating to let him see the translation, for Severus' long nose was buried behind the parchment, his plate totally ignored.

He reached over and served Severus a heaping of scrambled eggs, bangers, and buttered toast. His lover never even noticed; Severus was so absorbed in the potion.

Finally, Severus lowered the scroll, but he didn't start to eat. "This potion is going to be extremely rough on your system."

"Yeah, I sort of got that idea while translating it," Harry acknowledged. "Cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness . . . sounds like a month long bout of food poisoning. But Slytherin made a point of insisting that it wouldn't kill any human in good health."

"No, it will only make you wish you were dead," Severus replied, his face going all grim and worried again. "The instructions warn that no potions with magical attributes can be used while you're taking the cure. I won't even be able to administer anything to ease your distress."

"Keeping my blood pure while I process the cure seemed to be important. There was a whole list of things I can't eat or drink. Yours has to be pure, too. It said that you couldn't feed off anything other than me that month. That means no animal blood and none of those potions you've been using to extend the period between feedings," Harry said.

"I've never gone without the potions, " Severus said, visibly worried.

"I know it sounds awful, but it will be all right, Severus."

"I don't think you realize how unwell this concoction will make you," Severus said. "The more I read of this, the less sanguine I am about the entire procedure."

Since the very concept had freaked his lover out from the start, Harry didn't find that hard to believe or even terribly surprising.

"The purpose of the entire procedure is to make you more sanguine," Harry quipped. At the murderous look he received for that, he said, "I know. It's going to be rough, but we'll get through it."

"Will you take off those damn rose-tinted Gryffindor glasses and listen to reason? This isn't simply going to make you a little ill. It isn't going to be like flu. I'm familiar with the effects of all of these ingredients. Singularly, they would make you unwell. Together . . . it will be like taking a potent poison every day."

"But it won't kill me," he argued. "And most importantly, it will cure you. That's what we both have to concentrate on. The goal, not the process."

Severus appeared entirely unconvinced. "If we do this, you will be completely incapacitated for twenty-eight days. You won't be able to go to work. You'll be lucky if you can make it to the loo."

"Then you'll just have to take care of me, won't you?" he answered, keeping his stare level.

Severus' gaze dropped. "That isn't the point."

"I know it's going to be hard. I gave the whole thing a lot of thought," Harry ignored the snort that received and blazed on with, "while I was walking out to find you last night. I need to ask you something, and I need you to be completely honest about it."

Severus' raised eyebrow was quite an eloquent comment in itself.

The snarky expression on his lover's face was almost normal for them. It made Harry feel strangely better, but after hearing Severus so recently threaten to change the wards and toss him out, he wasn't sure how his next idea would be received. "Considering the argument we just had, this probably isn't the best time to ask, but . . . I'm considering giving notice to the Chief on Monday and telling Minerva that I'll accept the DADA position this September. What I need to know is – do you want me around that much? The way things are now, we've got a good twelve hours apart every workday. If I accept the DADA position, we'll be thrown together all the time. I know how you value your solitude. I don't want to spoil what we have by giving you too much of a good thing. What do you think?"

Harry found himself holding his breath. He knew he was lucky to still be here at all. Last night's fight could have so easily destroyed them. But even though Severus hadn't made him leave, this was still a big move. The last thing he wanted was to hear Severus say that he didn't want him around that much, but he had to give his reclusive lover that option.

"I think you should take the job," Severus answered without even the slightest hesitation.

The breath whooshing out of him, Harry smiled and checked, "Having me around that much won't drive you crazy?"

"My sanity has been a moot point for the last six months. I'll cope," Severus said in his normal formal tone, but Harry could see that his lover was really pleased by his decision.

Grinning, Harry nodded. "That's settled then. I'll resign on Monday. That will give us two weeks to make our preparations. The first day of the potion's cycle is the dark of the moon. That will be two weeks from yesterday. Can you have the potion ready by then?"

Severus glanced at the scroll. "I could have it ready by tonight, if necessary. The potion itself isn't difficult. It's the collateral damage that has me concerned."

Recalling how Severus had once told him that the difference between their two houses was the fact that Slytherins always tried to minimize the collateral damage in any situation while Gryffindors just charged in blind, he said, "But we already established six weeks ago that you're not a very good Slytherin, so we'll just proceed like Gryffindors and not worry about the collateral damage."

"As it is you who will suffer the brunt of it, I can't help but be concerned," Severus answered, his misgivings still visible.

"I know, but it's my choice. More than that, it's my pleasure," Harry insisted.

"Let's see how you feel about that in two weeks time, shall we?" Severus said, finally laying the translation aside to pick at his breakfast.

*****

Two weeks later as Harry lay in bed the night after taking the first dose of the vampirism cure, he was sorry to acknowledge that Severus was once again proven correct. It wasn't a pleasure; in fact, the experience was so far away from pleasure that he couldn't remember what it felt like to feel good, and he was only sixteen hours into the procedure.

After drinking down the first draught of the smoking, yellow, foul-tasting brew at sunrise on the dark of the moon, Harry spent the entire morning sitting on the toilet with diarrhoeic cramps, and the afternoon retching the contents of his stomach into a bucket. He was beyond miserable and wishing that there had been any other way to do this.

It was a testament to Gryffindor stubbornness that he didn't once think of abandoning the idea, for all that Severus kept threatening that he wasn't going to brew the second batch. He'd won that argument. At least, Harry thought he had. It was hard to consider anything that made him feel this bad as winning.

Even worse than what the noxious potion was doing to his own body, was the effect the ordeal of having to watch him suffer was having upon Severus. The guilt was eating Severus alive, and this was only the first day. Severus could barely meet his eyes.

His lover had hovered outside the open bathroom door all day long, doing his best not to intrude upon his privacy, while staying close enough to catch him should he pass out – which was still a distinct possibility.

Now that the cramping, voiding, and vomiting had finally stopped, Harry was propped up in their bed on a mound of pillows, trying to rest.

Severus sat in a straight-backed chair at his side. His face looked like it was carved from stone; it was set so rigidly in pained lines.

Severus held a mug of thin vegetable broth clutched between his hands in his lap. He was staring down at it as if the secrets of the universe could be found in its cloudy depths. His longish black hair was veiling his face because of the way his head was bent.

Harry thought that he'd never seen the man look so beaten.

As if sensing his gaze, Severus glanced over at him. "Would you like to try another sip?"

Harry hadn't been too successful at keeping the last try down.

"Yes, please," he said, mostly to get Severus to move closer to him.

Severus came to perch on the side of the bed. Slipping his hand beneath his head to gently cup his skull, Severus lifted him up and held the mug to his lips with his other hand.

Harry took a sip of the thin, salty broth and murmured his thanks. This sip seemed inclined to stay where it was put.

"More?" Severus questioned.

"No, thanks." Harry put his hand on Severus' arm to stop him as his lover made to draw back to his chair. "How are you doing?"

"Me?" Severus appeared shocked. "I'm not the one being poisoned."

"It would be easier for you if you were, I think," Harry said and then offered, "You don't have to watch. Poppy would take care of me if we told her what we were doing."

Madame Pomfrey, Minerva, Hagrid, and Severus were the only teachers who had remained at Hogwarts over the summer.

"Would you rather be with her? I know . . . that I am not the most compassionate caretaker," Severus stiffly replied, lowering his gaze again.

At that moment, Harry would have given anything in the world to see Severus sneer at him. This guilt-ridden spectre was more painful to him than the cramps the potion caused.

"That's not what I meant," Harry quickly corrected. "I know this is torturing you."

He reached a shaky hand up to touch Severus' cheek.

Severus' eyes squeezed closed and he turned his face to nuzzle his sweaty palm, his right hand rising to hold it in place. "It should be me enduring this."

"You are. We both are." He pressed against Severus' face, guiding him down towards his chest. For a second or two, Severus resisted, but then he pulled his long legs onto the bed and curled up beside him in the tiny space on the edge of the bed. Severus' head rested next to his own on the corner of his pillow. A dark clad arm settled across his chest and Severus released something that almost sounded like a sob.

Harry raised his own hand to clutch Severus' arm tighter to him. He didn't look over at his proud lover's face because he knew how hard Severus was struggling to maintain his controls and hold himself together.

"I feel better," Harry offered as if he hadn't heard the sound. He was surprised to find that his words were true. He was weak as the proverbial kitten, but at least there were no more cramps and he wasn't in digestive distress. "Holding you helps." Recalling what he'd been doing all day, and his lover's enhanced senses, Harry said, "I guess I don't smell very good right now."

Severus' hand tightened around him. Harry felt a kiss pressed against his temple as Severus answered, "You smell alive. That's all I care about."

Cocooned in Severus' protective warmth, he drifted off to sleep.

Harry didn't know how long he was out, but when he opened his eyes, he found that the fire in the hearth across the room had nearly burned down. Severus was still cuddling him, appearing as if he hadn't moved a muscle in hours.

Harry still felt very wobbly from the potion, but at least he didn't need the loo or the bucket. Turning over, he met those dark, watchful eyes. "It must be time for you to feed."

Severus tensed around him at the sleep-thickened statement. Those guilt-burdened eyes were staring at him, silently begging him not to pursue this subject.

"The whole idea is for me to filter the cure through my blood," Harry said, his voice still gruff from sleep. "If you don't drink it, then all of this will have been for nothing."

Harry slid his hand up around Severus' neck and tugged his lover's head towards his own throat. Severus allowed himself to be forced down.

Harry shivered as he felt that moist breath brush against the sensitive skin of his neck. Even feeling like death warmed over, the prospect of Severus feeding excited him.

Harry waited. A minute passed, and then another and still no tongue laved him. "Severus?"

Severus' long fingers clenched in the green cotton nightshirt that Harry was wearing. Severus lifted his head to look down at him. His expression was torn with more emotion than he'd ever seen on his lover's face. "I can't do this. You're too ill. It will deplete you too much. Please . . . I've never felt like a monster with you. Don't make me into one now. Not when you're this sick."

His stomach clenched from something other than the cramps. Severus never asked him for anything. Not in bed, or out of it.

Harry stroked through Severus' oily hair, brushing it back from his lover's troubled brow. The instant he'd become so ill this morning, he'd known that this would be the hardest part. For all that Severus never coddled him, he was highly protective of him. He knew the idea of feeding off him after the day they'd endured had to be killing Severus.

Harry swallowed around a suddenly dry mouth. "I know you don't want to do this. I can't imagine what you've been feeling watching me be ill all day, but . . . we have to go through with it. It's our only chance. We have one month of hell, and then we get to enjoy the rest of our lives together. I want that so bad. I know it's hard for you, but . . . please, feed? It's only for two minutes. That's not nearly as long as we usually do it. I'll be fine. I promise."

If the bucket had been handy, he'd have passed it to Severus. His lover looked physically ill at what was being demanded of him. But Severus was nothing if not brave. After a deep, shaky breath, he gave a single nod. Grim determination steeled those harsh features as Severus once again bent his head to Harry's throat.

This time Harry didn't have to wait long for that skilful tongue to touch him. The potion must have really drained him, because even though the usual warmth spread through him as the chemicals in Severus' saliva sank through his skin to anaesthetize the area, he didn't become sexually aroused.

Harry wondered if the potion could be having an effect already, if his lack of response were due to Slyherin's cure starting to take hold or if it were caused by his illness.

He turned his head to the side, so that he could see the clock he'd put on the nearby nightstand. It was a Muggle battery operated clock with an oversized digital display that he could read without his glasses.

The pain of Severus' fangs sinking through his flesh was as sharp as ever, but it quickly diminished.

Severus seemed to know when the minute number on the clock switched. He began to suck at precisely 11:37.

It was odd and disappointing not to feel his body soaring with delight as Severus fed from him, but in a way, it was a relief. If he'd become too aroused himself, he wouldn't have been able to keep track of the time, and Slytherin's instructions had been very clear that the vampire shouldn't drink too much of the donor's altered blood in a single feeding.

When the minute number switched to 9, Harry touched the back of Severus' neck and whispered, "It's time."

Severus immediately withdrew his fangs and licked the area until any lingering pain was long forgotten.

When Severus lifted his head, his gaze flickered almost guiltily away. It didn't take much in the way of observation skills even while exhausted to see that Severus hated himself at the moment.

Harry reached up to cup his lover's smooth cheek and draw his gaze back to him. Severus was still sporting his fangs. "Thank you."

Severus' eyes squeezed shut for a moment before they reopened to pin him in their utter torment. "You're enduring this for my sake. I should be thanking you."

Harry watched in utter fascination as the fang tips peeking out of the sides of Severus' mouth gradually receded behind his lips. Usually, he passed out from the ecstasy and never got to see that happen.

"You'd never do this if I weren't forcing you," Harry answered in a raspy voice.

Severus' fingers reached out to touch the spot where he'd just fed. "I can't even heal your throat. The protocol for the cure won't allow me to work any magic on you."

"It's okay. It doesn't hurt." Looking at Severus, he asked, "Do you feel any kind of reaction to my blood?"

Severus gave a slow shake of his head. "No. I feel the same. However . . . ."

"Yes?" Harry encouraged.

"Two minutes wouldn't normally be sufficient to sate me and . . . I don't feel hungry at the moment."

"That's fantastic," Harry grinned. The events of the day catching up with him, he yawned and mumbled, "'m tired. Will you hold me for a while?"

Severus performed a quick transfiguration spell to change his clothing into a grey nightshirt. Then Severus wordlessly shifted them around until he was flat on his back with Harry resting on top of him.

"That's better," Harry approved. "You'll wake me at sunrise?"

"Yes."

"Is the next batch of potion ready?" he checked.

Severus replied with an even grimmer, "Yes."

"I love you." Harry's didn't say those words too often, because he knew how uncomfortable they made Severus, but he felt the need to say them tonight.

Severus was so still beneath his cheek that it seemed he'd stopped breathing entirely. After a long pause, he heard Severus whisper, "I could never be in any doubt of that fact after today. I trust that you are equally aware of my . . . devotion."

Knowing better than to make a fuss over the uncharacteristic declaration, he gave a smile, which he hoped could be heard in his sleepy voice as he answered, "Works out well then, doesn't it?"

His last awareness was of Severus' hand stroking his back as he tumbled down into the healing embrace of sleep.

*****

The next twenty-seven days were the most difficult of Harry's life. His waking hours were a blur of abdominal cramping, puking, and voiding as the potion wrecked havoc on his body chemistry to cure his lover. Severus theorized that the chemicals in Slytherin's concoction were affecting Harry on a molecular level by temporarily changing the very structure of his blood cells.

It made sense, Harry supposed, that since Severus had become infected by drinking a vampire's abnormal blood, that it would take a different kind of abnormal blood to fight the infection. All Harry knew was that the transformation taking place within him hurt worse than anything he'd ever endured.

He didn't seem to be able to take in enough liquid to keep himself hydrated, so Severus learned the art of Muggle intravenous infusion to get the water and nutrients into him. His research having opened his eyes to the world of Muggle medicine, Severus had wanted to attempt to alleviate the worst of Harry's symptoms with non-magical, Muggle remedies, but Harry wouldn't permit it for fear of polluting his blood and ruining all their hard work. The only thing he knew for certain more than that he loved Severus was the fact that he wouldn't have the courage to go through this a second time.

Although he sensed that Severus' guilt never abated, his lover learned to hide it better during the next four weeks.

It was a strange period of suffering and incredible bonding. Severus remained beside him through nearly every minute, holding him up on the way to and from the loo, sitting on the tub beside the toilet to hold onto him while he fought back the moans from the cramps, setting up the intravenous drip to keep him hydrated, cradling him whenever he could rest . . . for all that it was the most horrible experience for him physically, he'd never felt more loved or cherished in his life.

And every day he got to see the changes their efforts had on Severus. At first, the difference was barely noticeable to either of them, but after about a week, Severus' colour seemed to improve. The yellow cast left his skin. Severus also claimed that the constant craving for blood was abating.

It was these tiny victories that helped Harry hang on. He'd look at the hint of pink in Severus' cheeks every morning when his lover woke him at sunrise, and it would give him the courage to drink down the vile brew that would leave him convulsed with pain in the bathroom for the remainder of the day.

This was the last morning Harry would have to do this. It was the 28th day, the moment they'd been working towards. All he had to do now was take that final potion, drink Severus' blood for two minutes, allow his body to process the potion and vampire blood for the day, have Severus drink from him a final time tonight, and then Severus would be cured. The drinking Severus' blood part of the procedure was still giving him some worry, but everything had gone so well this far that it was hard to imagine that everything would fall apart at so late a date. It had to work. It just had to.

He'd woken when Severus left their bed an hour before sunrise. Severus was back now, with the goblet of smoking yellow potion in his hands. Unlike all the other mornings, Severus didn't come straight to the bed to offer it to him. His lover was hanging back, stopped by the nightstand, his troubled gaze alternating between the brew in his hands and Harry on the bed.

"This is the last one," Harry said, smiling up at Severus.

"It could be your last day as human, as well," Severus responded.

"We knew that going in. It's not going to happen, though," Harry insisted, holding that tormented, dark gaze. "The cure's working just as Slytherin's notes said it would. You've been improving every day. Look at you! Your cheeks are rosier than mine now."

"Aside from the fact that you've been poisoning yourself, which is making you pale, I've been feeding on human blood every day for a month. I told you that would have a dramatic effect upon my appearance," Severus reminded. "We have no proof that Slytherin's potion is in any way responsible for the change."

"You haven't been taking enough blood every day to keep you alive," Harry reminded. "And you stopped taking those potions that helped you manage without blood a month ago. You should have been in crisis within days if Slytherin's potion weren't working, but you weren't. You're fine, and come tomorrow, you'll be cured."

"Unless the final potion fails. We could have made a mistake in the translation or I could have botched the brewing . . . you could wake up changed, providing you wake up at all, of course. The ingredients in this final batch would be enough to kill you alone."

"That's not going to happen." Harry sighed. "My blood's been changing, too, just like the notes predicted it would. The translation is right. We went over it a dozen times. It's perfect. You know it is. And as for you botching a potion – when was the last time you did that?"

"That's not the point!" Severus insisted. "If this potion doesn't work, I will be damning you to the same hell I've endured for thirty years – "

"Severus, we've been over all of this," he softly interrupted. "I'm willing to take that chance. Whatever happens, we'll be together."

"If this fails, we will not be together, not in the way we've been in the past. Once you turn, I will no longer be able to feed off you. We will both be forced to seek sustenance elsewhere. We will grow apart and – "

"We won't grow apart! It's going to work. Now get over here and give me the damn potion," Harry said, losing patience with the argument. Did Severus really think he would have endured this last month of illness to go back on their plan at the last minute?

For all the reluctance Severus was displaying as he took those final, slow steps to their bedside, anyone would have thought that Severus were the vampire's victim being compelled against his will to feed a hungry monster, or perhaps that he was under Imperius. It was clear that Severus was doing this against his will and better judgement.

Severus stopped when the mattress edge brushed his trouser-covered thighs, but he didn't offer the goblet.

Harry reached out, took the ornate cup from Severus' tense grip, and quaffed the foul brew down as quickly as possible. As always, it was all he could do not to gag on it. If anything, this morning's batch was bitterer than usual.

Shifting over into the middle of the bed, Harry patted the warm area he'd just abandoned. "Come on. We have to get this over with before the cramps hit."

Any colour the cure had granted Severus over the last few weeks was absent from his cheeks. Severus looked as though he were about to pass out or flee. More than a little guilt passed through Harry when he noticed that his companion was visibly trembling.

"It will be all right. Please, lie down beside me?"

His face etched with grave misgivings, if not outright terror, Severus hesitantly sank onto the bed.

Harry didn't relax until those black-booted feet settled on top of the brown duvet.

"Accio knife," Harry whispered, summoning the tiny knife with its wickedly sharp blade from the nightstand. As its cool, bone grip settled in his hand, he turned to look at Severus and froze. He hadn't really considered the fact that he was going to have to cut into Severus' flesh to get at his blood. The fear in Severus' eyes was making him feel horrible. Trying to ignore it, he swallowed and asked, "Where do you want me to . . . ?"

Holding his gaze, Severus opened his stiff black waistcoat and white shirt collar, baring his neck. Severus' long, chemical stained fingers rose to tap his own throat above the jugular. "Here. Remember, two minutes only. I'll watch the clock."

Severus turned his head towards the nightstand with its Muggle clock.

Hating this, Harry reached out to carefully slice the skin and vein. Severus didn't even flinch at the cut. The blood spilt out over that porcelain white flesh like blood on fallen snow. His stomach roiling in revolt, he waited for Severus to say, "Begin on three. One, two . . . ."

Harry lowered his head and began to suck as "three" sounded. The sickening, metallic taste of the blood filled his mouth. He was barely able to swallow it. He was too aware that Severus might be right, that this could be his own undoing rather than their salvation. But he'd forced this issue. There was no backing out now.

It was a little frightening how much blood was seeping into his mouth from that cut. He swallowed again and again, praying that he wouldn't vomit it immediately back up. His disgust made him want to gag with each gulp. The blood and potion were lying like a lump of lead in his empty stomach.

What was worse was Severus' visceral revulsion to what they were doing. Severus was so reluctant to go through with this that Harry really felt as if he were raping his lover. Severus was lying there stiff as a corpse, barely breathing as Harry sucked at his throat. Severus' hands were clutched in the collar of Harry's nightshirt as though he were resisting the impulse to throw him off.

This wasn't hot and sexy like it was whenever Severus fed off him. Grim necessity had forced this, and it was all either of them could do to go through with it.

Those two minutes seemed to last forever. Harry forced himself to keep sucking at the cut, for all that he wanted to spit the strangely flavoured blood back out.

Finally, Severus' hand settled on the back of his head. "Time."

Harry raised his mouth from Severus' neck, reached out to touch the deep cut there with its sore looking red suction mark around it, and then mumbled a healing charm. The potion's instructions hadn't said anything about the vampire not being able to have magic used upon him, only that the donor must remain magically pure. Slytherin was so concise about everything that he didn't think the man would have neglected mentioning an important fact like that.

"It's done," Harry said, his voice gruff and thick.

"Yes," Severus replied in a similar tone, his piercing gaze fixed on Harry's face.

"When you were changed, how long did it take before the vampire's blood killed you?" This was probably a question he should have asked before they started, Harry realized.

"Approximately ten minutes." Severus seemed to sense his fear, for he softly added, "There was no pain. A chill spread through me and I sank into a dreamless sleep – from which I awoke three days later."

"Will you hold me?" Harry asked in a small voice, knowing that after forcing Severus to go through with this, he really didn't have the right to ask.

But Severus' arms closed instantly around him and drew him to his chest. They were almost uncomfortably tight as Harry pressed his cheek against the stiff, starched shirt and breathed in his lover's scent.

"Harry?"

Even now, Severus rarely used his first name.

"Yes?" Harry answered, made nervous by the serious tone and the use of his given name.

"I just want you to know that whatever may happen . . . I do love you. You will not be alone."

Harry's eyes squeezed shut and he held Severus tighter. "I know. I love you, too."

"I could never be in doubt of that, not now," Severus whispered, stroking his messy hair. After a minute or so, Severus asked, "When you are well again and I am cured, is there anything specific you'd like to do to celebrate?"

Harry didn't think he'd ever appreciated any words more. He could tell by the fear in Severus' muscles that his companion was lying there waiting for him to die. That his normally pessimistic lover would make this effort to cheer his spirits, when he could feel how Severus was expecting the worst himself, moved him deeply. "I'd like to go somewhere warm and sunny, somewhere where we could lie on a beach in the sun all day and then make love in the sand all night."

"Have you ever lain in the sand?" Severus asked in that superiorly amused tone he often took after Harry would ask a stupid question.

Harry looked up to meet Severus' gaze. Severus was staring down at him with such intensity he seemed to be memorizing him. "I've never seen the ocean or walked on any beach, except for the one down by Hogwarts' lake."

Regret touched those often-stern features. "Never?"

Harry shrugged. "When I was in school, there was always the threat of Voldemort. And then after . . . after Ron and Hermione died, there just didn't seem to be any point to it. I never even took my holidays. The only time I used my leave was when I was hurt in the line of duty and needed to recuperate."

"It's time all that changed. We'll have over a month off before school begins. We'll look into finding a beach tomorrow," Severus said in the tone of a promise. Those arms grew even tighter around Harry.

Trying not to think about what could be happening to his body, Harry lay still in Severus' arms and listened to the steady beat of his lover's heart.

"How do you feel?" Severus asked some time later.

"Good."

"No chills?"

"No, but you're holding me under the duvet," Harry pointed out. "I'm always warm in your arms."

He felt Severus nod, then those thin lips pressed a kiss to the crown of his head, and stayed buried in his hair.

The rhythm of Severus' heart and breathing lulled the tension out of him. Reminded of how physically demanding this last month had been, Harry closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift a bit.

"Harry?"

He started awake. His heart raced in panic. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep, whether it had been three days or three minutes.

He was still lying in Severus' arms, but he wouldn't have put it past his lover to have spent all three days holding him, waiting for him to reawaken.

"It's been over an hour. How do you feel?" Severus' voice held the first traces of true excitement. "You took enough blood from me to kill you. If you were going to change, it would have started by now."

"I, er, feel okay. More than okay. I feel good. The potion isn't even making me ill yet. The cramps should have hit by now, shouldn't they?" Harry questioned, confused.

"They've always done so in the past," Severus answered.

"That's a good sign, don't you think?"

"I can't help but approve of anything that alleviates your distress," Severus replied, bending forward to kiss his forehead.

"Would you like to read some more of that book to me while we wait?" Harry asked. Severus had been reading Fred Saberhagen's The Holmes – Dracula File to him these past two days. Severus said it was one of the few novels that dealt with his condition that he actually enjoyed. He suspected that had more to do with Holmes than the vampire angle in the book. Severus seemed intrigued by the fictitious Victorian detective.

When he was done with this, Harry wanted to buy Severus the complete Conan Doyle works. Then he'd get his Muggle holograph vid player up and running and buy every Sherlock Holmes film he could find. There was just so much he wanted to share with Severus, so much for them both to look forward to.

He snuggled down at Severus' side as his lover sat up to retrieve the novel from the nightstand. As Severus' rich, deep voice picked up the plot where they'd left off yesterday, Harry closed his eyes to enjoy the sheer sensuality of Severus' cultured tones.

The day passed a lot swifter than those of the previous four weeks. Although Harry found himself weak and exhausted, not being actively sick improved his spirits no end. Severus seemed cheered as well. Instead of simply pushing his food around the plate at lunch, Severus actually ate it. The fact that Harry himself was able to consume and keep down something other than thin broth seemed to delight Severus no end, for all that his reserved lover was trying to hide his excitement.

Now, a couple of hours past sunset, the moment of truth was upon them.

Harry sat in the bed where he'd spent the better part of the last month, watching Severus ' face as his lover read the final chapter of the novel from the nearby straight-backed chair. Severus already looked so much healthier that it was amazing. Harry couldn't wait until he was feeling better himself so that they could celebrate.

As the story came to its inevitable conclusion, Harry couldn't help but feel that their own bizarre tale was at a similar point. No matter what happened tonight, things were going to be different for them forever.

If everything went as they expected, the changes would be fantastic. Harry didn't want to think about what would happen if this final phase of Slytherin's cure were to fail. It wouldn't just mean that everything he'd suffered this last month had been in vain; it would leave Severus totally without hope of a cure. There would be no more looking through Dark Arts collections for lost knowledge. There'd be no more miracles. Severus would be doomed to this fate for good unless he could invent a cure himself.

With all his heart, he prayed Slytherin's cure would work. Harry knew if it didn't, it was going to be up to him to get them through this. He just didn't know if he had the strength to deal with that magnitude of a disappointment after the month he'd put in.

"I suppose waiting any longer would only be procrastinating," Severus remarked as he returned the novel to the nightstand.

"Yes."

"If this should fail –" Severus began.

"It's going to work," Harry insisted. He moved over in the bed to make room.

He watched as Severus removed his robe, jacket, waistcoat, and boots before climbing in beside him in trousers and shirtsleeves. He gave an encouraging smile as that long, lean form turned to face him.

Severus' face was as tense and tight as Harry felt. Clearly, they were both nervous wrecks.

Reaching out to stroke Severus' hair, he quietly confessed, "You know, I'm actually going to miss this part of it." Severus' gaze seemed to question his sanity. "I mean, I don't want this to fail or anything, but I've always loved when you feed."

"You're still deranged," Severus said in a gentle tone. "And you may not have anything to miss."

Harry shook his head. "No, this is going to be our last time. It's going to work. I can feel it . . . in my blood. Speaking of which, we should start."

Severus nodded and leaned forward to kiss him. Even though he'd been too sick of late to be aroused by what they did, he always loved kissing Severus. He opened his mouth at the first swipe of Severus' tongue.

The kiss was wet and long. Harry waited for the usual dizziness to hit him, but even though they were practically sucking the juices out of each other, the room remained stable around him.

Severus eventually drew back to stare at him. "My saliva's not affecting you anymore."

"Maybe it's a side-effect of having processed your blood. Slytherin's notes did say that as the potion worked through your system, your vampire attributes would begin to weaken. It's taking forever for your teeth to extend these days," Harry reminded.

"Yes, all the more reason to start if we're going to do this," Severus said and then bent over his neck for what they hoped would be the last time.

Harry shivered as that warm, moist breath played over his skin. Then Severus' tongue was there lapping at that familiar spot. Although it felt great, none of the usual ecstatic warmth spread out from the feeding spot tonight. Usually, Severus' saliva would penetrate the skin and numb the area so that when his fangs sank through the pain was greatly diminished, simultaneously sexually arousing Harry to fever pitch. But tonight, there was no fading of sensitivity. There hadn't been any sexual excitation at all since the day Harry first drank Slytherin's draught. He felt Severus' tongue continue to lap at his neck for what seemed like hours. Realizing that he wasn't going to get numb tonight, Harry finally said, "Just go ahead and feed. The saliva's not kicking in tonight at all."

"I . . . can't," Severus said.

"Severus, it's only a little pain. I can endure it for two minutes," he argued.

"You don't understand. My . . . teeth haven't extended," Severus reported. From his nervous tone, it was obvious his lover didn't know whether to be alarmed or relieved by that development.

"Accio knife," Harry said, calling the blade he'd used earlier to drink Severus' blood back to them. "Here. Use this."

He could feel Severus' reluctance as he took the knife from his hand, but his lover made no further argument. After visibly bracing himself, Severus reached out with both hands and carefully slit the skin over Harry's jugular vein.

It stung like any knife wound did. As the warm blood trickled down his neck, Harry turned his head to watch the clock, preparing to tell Severus when to start feeding when the digital number changed. But the second the 9:26 shifted to 9:27, Severus lowered his head and began to suck at the cut.

Harry had never realized how much those sharp fangs being inserted in the vein to hold it open helped ease the discomfort of feeding. As Severus sucked the blood out of him through that open cut, it hurt like hell. But he held still and let his lover drink his fill.

The clock shifted to read 9:29. He'd opened his mouth to call time, when Severus raised his head.

"It's done," Severus said softly.

"How do you feel?" Harry questioned.

"Strange," Severus answered. "Here, allow me to heal that cut now that magic can be used upon – "

Before Severus could reach for him, his eyes rolled back in his head and Severus slumped forward onto Harry's chest.

"Severus!" he cried. He rolled the taller man off him, laying Severus flat on his back. Frantic, Harry 's hands scrambled for the pulse at Severus' throat, while he laid his head flat over Severus' chest. Both heart and pulse point were thrumming madly. The speed with which Severus' heart was racing was downright frightening; but it was beating, which was all that mattered to him.

Severus' chest was rising slower than normal, but steadily. He didn't know if that were a bad sign, considering how fast his lover's heart was pounding

A drop of bright red blood dripped onto Severus' white shirt. Reminded of his own open throat wound, Harry quickly performed a healing charm to close it. There was no more reason to abstain from magic. Either this would work or they would fail miserably.

All he could do now was sit back to wait.

At first, Severus slept as peacefully as a baby, but then his strong-featured face twisted in pain and he began to make sharp, keening noises as his body curled in upon itself.

Slytherin's notes had said that the vampire would sleep for an hour and then awaken cured. But the notes hadn't mentioned a thing about the crying noises Severus was making in his sleep or mentioned any pain. Harry supposed the latter could only be expected.

The changes being wrought on Severus' body were radical. His entire constitution was being rewritten by the potion, transformed back into human. Harry hadn't had much contact with Muggle science, but he knew enough to suspect that Severus' body was being changed on a genetic level, with his very DNA being rewritten. Not surprisingly, the transformation hurt like the Cruciatus.

Each of those tortured moans went straight through him. This had been his idea; he'd forced Severus to do this. It was his blood causing this agony.

Now that he was in the same position Severus had been all month, that of having to stand impotently aside and watch while his lover suffered, he didn't know how Severus had endured it for so long. He'd known it was hard on Severus, but now that he was there, feeling it himself, he realized how unbearably cruel it had really been.

Wishing that he could take Severus' pain into himself, he spooned himself around the foetal ball Severus had curled into and held on tight, pressing his lips through the sweaty hair at the nape of Severus' neck.

It felt like years that he lay there clutching his pain-wracked lover close to him. Eventually, Severus gave a final, sharp scream that sounded as though someone had just ripped his testicles off. Then all the tension left the tight-strung body he held, and Severus went still.

Severus was still breathing. Harry could feel the slender back his chest was pressed against rising and falling in a steady rhythm.

After a few more minutes, Severus' started awake. "Harry?"

Barely daring to hope, he nodded against the back of Severus' head and rasped out, "I'm here. How do you feel?"

"I need the toilet. Urgently."

Releasing Severus, he scrambled quickly to his feet and helped his lover from the bed.

Severus swayed alarmingly as he attained the vertical.

Harry reached out to steady him. Slipping an arm around Severus' waist, he escorted him to the lavatory, much the same way Severus had guided him there over the last weeks.

Once they were in the cramped bathroom, he manoeuvred Severus to the toilet. Without waiting to be asked, he quickly undid Severus' trousers and undergarments and eased his lover down onto the toilet seat.

He stepped back to the doorway as Severus promptly made use of the facilities. He didn't want to intrude on his reserved lover's privacy, but he was too worried to retreat entirely.

"Are there any cramps?" he asked, sympathizing as Severus' body voided itself and the scent of excrement filled the small room. Usually, he was the one smelling the place up.

"No, just . . . ."

He gave what he hoped was an understanding smile as Severus' cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink. "I know. That was the worst, I think. Vomiting isn't pleasant, but that . . . ."

"Precisely," Severus said in a tight voice. "You don't have to stay here."

"You didn't leave me," he reminded.

"Yes, but – "

"I think I'll wash up while you're . . . occupied."

"Are you up to it?" Severus asked, his own modesty issues seemingly forgotten as he no doubt recalled how wobbly Harry had been lately.

"I feel great. A little weak, but . . . nothing a few meals and some sleep won't take care of."

Turning to the sink, he summoned a flannel from the tub, ran some warm water in the basin, and began washing his face. He'd done his whole body, changed his nightshirt, and was in the process of brushing his teeth when he heard the toilet flush behind him.

Severus came to join him at the sink to wash his hands.

Moving over to make room, he ginned and started to brush his molars when he noticed something that made him freeze.

Due to Severus' condition, the only mirror in Severus' quarters was the small one on the medicine cabinet, which they were standing in front of at the moment. Severus seemed to have trained himself over the years to not even glance in the mirror's direction. The absence of his reflection obviously still bothered him.

They'd stood side by side like this while Severus held him up to brush his teeth every day for the last month. Always, it was only his own reflection thrown back at him in the small, square mirror, unless Severus made a conscious effort and erected his glamour. But tonight . . . tonight Severus was clearly visible there beside him.

The toothbrush fell from his shocked grip. It bounced off Severus' lathered hands and onto the white tile floor. "Oh, my god."

"Are you all right?" Severus questioned, wiping the toothpaste Harry had spat at him off his cheek.

"Look," he said.

"At what?"

"At you – in the mirror. Look! It worked, Severus. My God, it worked. You're cured!" he said, loosing a triumphant hoot, while Severus gazed in shock into the tiny mirror he normally eschewed.

His hands still dripping soapy bubbles, Severus leaned forward to look at himself, a strange stillness coming over him. Severus' lathered hand rose to touch his own cheek, as if to verify his solidity.

"By Merlin, I am an ugly git, aren't I?" Severus said, but he said it with a wide, happy grin that Harry had never seen before. It transformed his entire face, taking years off.

And then they were both laughing, loud and uncontrollably. If there were a hysterical edge to it, neither he nor Severus seemed to care.

Overjoyed, he reached out to grab onto Severus. Those long fingered hands gripped his biceps, dragging him into an exuberant hug.

Slowly, his laughter calmed, but even though he stopped laughing, Severus kept on shaking.

It took him a while to realize that it was no longer merriment making his lover shudder like that. When Severus buried his face in the crook of his neck and Harry felt the hot wetness seeping through his fresh nightshirt, he could be in no doubt as to what was happening. After having suffered for over three decades, he supposed that it only stood to reason that Severus' reaction to being cured would be highly emotional. How could it not be? He'd only known about Severus' problem for six months now, and his own eyes were stinging in reaction. What must it have been like for Severus to have this horror finally lifted from him?

Tightening his arms, he turned his face into Severus' unwashed hair and kissed the lank hank nearest his mouth. "You're free, love. Free. We did it."

Severus lifted his head to gaze down at him out of wet, red eyes. "You did it. Were it not for you . . . ." The gruff voice shook with emotion.

Sensing that this was all too much for Severus, he slid his arm around his lover's waist and guided him back into the bedroom.

Harry was feeling much better himself now. It was no trouble to transfigure Severus' clothes into a long, black nightshirt.

He eased Severus down onto the bed, and then slid in beside him. Pulling the duvet over them both, he settled onto his back and gathered Severus into his arms. He rubbed that slender, bony back until long after the trembling subsided and Severus grew heavy in his arms.

The transformation had taken a lot out of Severus. It wasn't any surprise he'd fallen asleep again so soon. Between the physical effects of the potion itself and the emotional response to the cure, Severus had to be exhausted.

Feeling pretty tired himself, he closed his eyes and followed his lover down into sleep.

*****

The next few days were a time of quiet healing for them both. His strength returning almost by the minute, Harry was able to persuade Severus to venture out into Hogwarts gardens with him for a few hours each afternoon. It was the first time he could remember when his lover didn't seem to be squirming and uncomfortable in the sun.

They resumed taking meals at the teacher's table in the Great Hall three days after Severus was cured; although it was just Minerva, Poppy, Hagrid, and them. The others were huddled in a small group at the end of the long teacher's table when he and Severus entered the hall for breakfast more than a month after they'd disappeared from the table.

Minerva took one look at him and fretted, "Harry, what's happened? You're pale as death."

Her accusative blue glare turned Severus' way.

Harry could understand why she'd be so suspicious. Severus' cheeks were a healthy pink. The sallow tint had left his face and hands. Severus' recently washed hair was lustrous and had a body to it that it had previously possessed only immediately after feeding. To an outsider, Severus would look like a well-fed vampire.

Seeing the same accusation mirrored in all three faces, they stopped a few feet short of the table. It was clear that their friends suspected Severus of abusing him during feeding.

This was one situation neither of them had anticipated. They'd been so isolated in Severus' quarters this last month that he'd all but forgotten that there were other people here at Hogwarts who were aware of Severus' affliction, people who would notice the kind of dramatic change in appearance that Severus had suffered three decades to avoid.

Minerva, Poppy, and Hagrid had all been great about accepting his relationship with Severus. Not a one of them had made a comment about his moving into the dungeons beyond remarking on how good it was to have Harry around on a regular basis. It was clear that all three of their friends were now rethinking their stand on this unusual relationship.

At least Minerva and Poppy's expressions were schooled to prim disapproval. Hagrid's open, bearded face revealed his fury. The half-giant was glaring at Severus as though he were considering using the table leg to do the vampire in.

"Please don't stare at Severus like that," Harry asked, moving up to his usual seat, two chairs to McGonagall 's right. "He hasn't done anything wrong. In fact, he's done everything right. He's cured."

"Overindulgence in feeding won't cure what ails him," Poppy reprimanded, straightening up in her crisp white robes and wimple. "I'm shocked at you, Severus. You've never been this . . . negligent before. Look at the boy! He's lost a stone and is paler than you."

"I'm not a boy!" he reminded them in a hot tone that belied his assertion.

Severus' deep, reasonable voice sliced through the incipient hysteria, "Madame, you are misunderstanding. Potter isn't speaking of curing my hunger. He's referring to curing my affliction."

"Your . . . ." Poppy's mouth fell open, while Minerva exclaimed, "Impossible," beside her.

Hagrid, always the most gullible in a group, muttered, "Blimey," and gaped at them in an awestruck manner from Minerva's far side.

Under everyone's disbelieving stares, Severus calmly slid into the chair between Harry and Minerva.

"I assure you, it's true," Severus insisted, reaching for a tray of scrambled eggs.

Harry smiled as his lover dished the eggs out onto his plate before putting any food on his own dish. It wasn't necessary anymore because he was feeling healthier, but it still made him feel special when Severus did these little things for him, especially in front of people. Being undemonstrative by nature, Severus was never indiscreet, but from the first day Harry had accompanied him to the teacher's table, Severus had made no effort to hide or deny what was between them.

"How?" Minerva demanded, still unconvinced. "There is no cure for vampirism."

"There was one once," Severus reminded.

"Mere rumours," the Headmistress dismissed.

"How would you find such a cure, even if it still existed?" Poppy asked.

"Even if what still existed?" Hagrid questioned, visibly confused.

Poppy turned to the huge man at her side and explained, "Salazar Slytherin gained his fame a thousand years ago by purportedly curing his young wife of vampirism. It's the only documented case of a cure on record, and it's over one thousand and eleven years old."

"Slytherin jealously guarded the cure while alive. It was lost after his death," Minerva added, and then turned to them to ask, "Where could you have found Slytherin's cure after all these years?

"In Slytherin's private, hidden lab," Severus replied.

"His what?" Minerva asked.

"Slytherin had a workshop set up in the Chamber of Secrets," Harry explained.

"In the – " her face revealed the same utter astonishment Harry had felt himself when the idea originally occurred to him.

"Yes, Minerva. For the thirty years that I've been scouring every Dark Arts collection on the planet searching for Slytherin's cure, I've been sitting right on top of it," Severus said, his tone rife with irony. "Once Potter here knew what I was looking for, it took him all of two seconds to piece together the fact that if Slytherin had hidden his work anywhere it would be in his Chamber of Secrets."

"You went back down there?" Minerva asked.

"Yes," Severus said.

"We found Slytherin's lab and a trunkful of his work," Harry excitedly reported, trying to swallow his eggs without it becoming too clear to everyone that he was talking with his mouth full. For the last three days, he'd been making up for missed meals.

"Slytherin had coded his work in Parseltongue, so Potter had to translate for me," Severus added.

"Parseltongue?" Hagrid entered the conversation again. "That's snake language, ain't it? I didn't know it had a written form."

"Neither did I," Severus said. "The writing on Slytherin's papers all looked like identical rows of serpents to me, but Potter saw it as words."

"This is incredible," Minerva said.

"Isn't it?" Harry beamed. "He's well now."

"I don't think that's what the Headmistress was referring to," Severus softly said to him.

Harry flushed as the smile on Minerva's face told him that Severus was right. She had been talking about their finding and translating Slytherin's cure.

"That's amazing, too," Minerva offered, as though he were six and needing that kind of reassurance.

"Was the cure a spell or a potion, Severus?" Poppy asked.

"It was a potion, using a nightshade base. Fortunately, the other ingredients counteracted the hallucinogenic properties of the nightshade," Severus answered and then went on to list most of the ingredients after Poppy inquired about them. "It was a delicate balance of poisons."

"Did you have to take it only once? With those ingredients, the cure would have some rather unpleasant side effects," Poppy predicted.

"The potion had to be taken daily at sunrise for a full lunar cycle by a blood donor and filtered through the human's system. I received it through feeding," Severus offered.

"Yeh mean – " Hagrid began and broke off to turn to stare at Harry with an expression of horrified worry.

"I had to take it," Harry confirmed. "That's why I've lost so much weight. I haven't been able to keep anything down for this past month. Severus didn't want me to do it, but I insisted," he hastily added, so that there'd be no misunderstanding.

"Yeh must be right fond of the professor," Hagrid remarked.

A glance to his left revealed that Severus had gone positively scarlet beside him. He reached over to lay his hand on top of Severus' forearm before quietly stating, "A bit more than fond, I think."

Realizing that the others mightn't want that much information, he felt his own cheeks warm as he looked down the table, but all three of his old friends were smiling.

"That's wonderful, Harry," Hagrid enthusiastically approved. "Yeh 'n' the professor've been alone too long."

Minerva and Poppy both added their approval.

After a moment, Poppy said, "Harry, I'd like to look you over after breakfast, if you don't mind."

"I was sort of expecting that," Harry replied.

"So, you took the potion for a month, and Severus received it through feeding. What a unique concept," Minerva commented.

"I would never have considered it myself," Severus agreed. "Slytherin's notes made it clear that the potion couldn't be absorbed into the vampire's system except through human blood. The final phase was the most daring and insane proposition I've ever encountered."

"How so?" Poppy, who had a better knowledge of potions than anyone other than Severus at the table, asked.

"The final stage required the donor to drink the vampire's blood along with the final dose of potion. It was that step that initiated my final transformation back to human," Severus explained.

Hagrid began to say, "You mean Harry –," before falling into shocked silence.

"That was quite a risk you took," Poppy said to him at last, her reproving gaze sliding Severus' way.

"He didn't want to do it. I forced him, too," Harry told them. "It was the only chance we had for a normal life."

"It's little wonder that this was only done once in history," Minerva said, still appearing shaken. "I don't even want to think about what could have happened if something had gone wrong."

"But nothing did go wrong," Harry answered, grinning. "It was hard and horrible, but we did it, and now Severus is free."

"Thank, Merlin, for that," Minerva said, Hagrid and Poppy both voicing similar sentiments.

"This discovery must, of course, be shared with the world," Poppy said. "There are thousands of poor souls who could be helped by this."

"I should be finished with my treatise on Slytherin's cure this afternoon," Severus said. All the time Harry had been lying in the rose garden soaking up the sun these last few days, Severus had been sitting beside him referring to his notes and scribbling away on a three-foot parchment. "I'll owl it to Potions Monthly and Mediwizards' Quarterly before we leave tomorrow."

"Leave?" Hagrid questioned.

"We're going to the beach," Harry reported, wishing that he could keep that excited-six-year-old quality out of his voice. Even he could hear how ridiculously excited he was by the prospect of his first real vacation.

"The beach?" Minerva's astonished gaze turned to Severus, as did Poppy and Hagrid's.

Harry could well understand her surprise. His dungeon-dwelling lover was infamous for his hatred of bright light. Part of that aversion had been due to Severus' condition, but he knew that part of it was also Severus' natural preference.

"I've rented a villa in Santorini for the next month," Severus said, his tone heavy with irony.

"I never would have thought it of you, Severus," Poppy exclaimed in a lightly teasing tone. "A romantic getaway to a Mediterranean beach for a month!"

It was obvious that she was voicing all three's sentiments.

Harry tensed a little, expecting Severus to react badly to her jesting. But obviously Severus was extremely at ease with these three people. To his surprise, Severus simply explained, "Potter has never seen a real beach before." Then Severus continued in an amused tone with, "Believe me, I got off easy. I half-expected to end up on safari in Africa. He is a young Gryffindor, after all."

Catching Minerva's eye, Harry gave his former head of house a quick wink and turned to Severus to say in perfect earnestness, "Actually, I was hoping we could do the Nairobi safari during spring break."

He knew he was pushing it and that Severus would doubtless be dripping sarcasm in a moment as he refused the preposterous suggestion, but he couldn't resist teasing Severus just a little.

Harry watched the smug amusement drop from Severus' strong features. To his utter shock, once the surprise faded from Severus' face, his lover simply said, "Well, it will give me the chance to harvest some of the more exotic of my ingredients myself, I suppose, providing I don't get eaten by the fauna."

If he'd ever needed any proof of how much Severus Snape loved him, he'd just received it. Awed into silence, Harry looked back at the others to find them all grinning at them.

For the first time since he'd buried Ron and Hermione, he felt like he had a real family again.

Even if Minerva, Poppy, and Hagrid had borne no love for him, he would have been happy to be here simply because of how clearly they loved and accepted Severus. When he'd been younger, Albus and the other Hogwarts' adults' loyalty to Snape had bewildered and frustrated him. But now that he was able to see how the often-misanthropic potions master interacted with his peers on a personal level, he began to understand. Vampire ad former Death Eater, Severus might have been, but he was still an integral part of Hogwarts' family. It was something of a shock to realize that Minerva and the others had welcomed him to their midst when he'd moved in with Snape as much for Severus' sake as his own.

"Yesterday's Prophet had an article on your leaving the Aurors, Harry," Hagrid said. "Did you see it?"

"You mean the Boy Who Lives Fades into Obscurity article or the What Will the Wizarding World Do Without Him article?" Harry lightly laughed.

"Both, I guess," Hagrid answered.

"How could I miss them?" Harry asked.

"Your boss sounded sad to lose you," Hagrid said. "He seems like a good man."

"One of the best," Harry promptly agreed, not mentioning that Parker's perspicacity was one of his main reasons for leaving.

"Can't say as I blame him any," Poppy said. "The Aurors' loss is certainly our gain."

"Yes, we're all very pleased to have you here, Harry," Minerva added. "I hope teaching the Defence Against Dark Arts won't cause you to fade too far into obscurity."

Chuckling, he glanced over to Severus and gave a wry, "I'm certain the perks will keep me from vanishing entirely from sight."

Once the laughter died down, the conversation drifted to less personal topics. Harry turned his full attention to his breakfast. He was already beginning to feel like he belonged here. Grateful for the new life that was before Severus and him, he gave the man at his side a small smile and dove into his food wholeheartedly.

*****

Severus withdrew into his private research room immediately after breakfast to complete his treatise on Slytherin's cure. Not that Harry had much opportunity to miss him. Poppy kept him occupied with a rigorous physical for the next few hours. She finally pronounced him healthy, just in time for lunch, which Severus missed.

Already packed for their trip and at loose ends, he spent the afternoon reading on the lounge chair he'd transfigured in the rose garden, unwilling to waste the good weather. Four days of straight sunshine was something of a record for this area.

Severus made a brief appearance for dinner, but withdrew back into his lab before dessert was served. He'd been in there ever since.

As the clock over the mantle in their sitting room struck midnight, and the hand with Severus' picture on it remained fixed on the Working designation, he closed the novel he'd just finished with a weary sigh. He still wasn't recovered enough for late nights.

Dragging himself out of the armchair before he ended up fast asleep in it, he headed towards the loo for his nightly ablutions. When he entered the bedroom in his bathrobe, towelling his hair dry, he was startled to see Severus there.

His lover was apparently in the process of undressing. Severus had his robe, jacket, and waistcoat hung up in the wardrobe and was removing his cufflinks when Harry stepped into the room.

"Hello. I didn't expect you back," he said, smiling.

"Forgive me. I lost track of the time. I didn't intend to neglect you all night," Severus said, crossing the room to embrace him.

Hugging back, he looked up to meet Severus' eyes. "I knew that you were rushing to get your treatise done before we leave. There's nothing to apologize for. Is it finished?"

"Yes. I owled it out to the editors a few minutes ago."

"Good," he approved.

"There's a copy on the nightstand, if you'd like to look at it," Severus said.

Not sure he'd understand anything in a Potions monograph, he nonetheless crossed the room. Shifting his wet towel to hang over his elbow, he picked the parchment up off the table. Giving it a cursory glance, his jaw dropped open as he read the first few lines. A Treatise on Salazar Slytherin's Remedy for Vampirism by Severus Snape, Potions Master, Oxford School of Magical Sciences, and Harry James Potter, DADA Professor, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. "You put my name on it."

"I couldn't have done any of the work without your assistance," Severus said.

As he'd feared, the bulk of the document was too technical for someone who hadn't brewed a potion since his NEWT twelve years ago. "Er, this is fairly complex. I can't understand half of it. How did it turn out?"

Severus shrugged. "It was difficult to avoid making reference to our own experience with the cure."

"Why couldn't you talk about what we did?" he asked around a yawn as he put the parchment down and levitated his wet towel back to the loo.

"Being a vampire is an automatic death sentence. I didn't know what the consequences of being a former vampire would be – to myself or to you and those who harboured me all these years. I didn't want to be cured only to spend the remainder of my days in Azkaban for concealing my condition for thirty years."

"I never thought of that," he said. "Damn. Everyone here would be in danger since it's illegal to offer succour to or to harbour a vampire."

"The ethics of presenting all the data I've accumulated while not incriminating myself was a most frustrating problem."

"How'd you do it?" he asked, knowing that Severus would find a way.

"I ended up having to incorporate much of what we learned into Slytherin's descriptions by inferring that there were actually two cases of vampirism he cured a thousand years ago. I never outright said that the second case was contemporaneous with the first, merely implied it."

"Clever Slytherin," he approved.

Severus turned away and began unbuttoning his shirt. "I still perpetrated a scientific fraud. I'm not comfortable with it, but it was the only way I could safely transmit all our data."

"Maybe your discovery will change those laws, make them more humane," he said, watching as Severus slid the shirt from his shoulders and then shrugged out of his undershirt. His heart sped up as he took in all that smooth, bare skin. It had been more than a month since he'd felt well enough for his body to react to anything sexually.

"One could only hope. Unfortunately, very few afflicted vampires will be able to avail themselves of Slytherin's remedy," Severus said, his voice a little strained since he was bending to remove his boots while speaking.

"Why's that?" Harry asked, trying not to get too distracted by the view of Severus' tightly muscled posterior. For all that he hid his body as though it were something to be ashamed of, Severus' trousers fit him very well. The black material stretched tight across his bottom, revealing every flex of muscle. The provocative sight rushed heat to his groin.

Severus straightened back up, his loose hair wafting gently down to his shoulders. He knew that his reserved lover never thought of himself that way, but Severus looked lethally sensual at the moment with only his trousers on, and his bare chest and feet exposed.

Totally oblivious to the effect he was having upon him, Severus continued with, "Most vampires live on the edge of the society upon which they prey, with very little social interaction. I'd hazard a guess that not one in a thousand vampires has a lover who would willingly share their blood on a regular basis like you did, let alone suffer the debilitating side effects of Slytherin's cure for their sake."

"Perhaps the cure will encourage them to be less predatory in their interactions with humans," he said, his gaze riveted on Severus' hands as his lover undid his trousers.

"How so?" Severus asked, unfastening the button at his waist and gripping his zipper.

His temperature seemed to rise in direct proportion to Severus' zipper lowering. "Well, if they need a donor, maybe they'll be more inclined to do more than just prey upon society. Maybe they'll actually form a relationship like we did."

"Or maybe they'll simply capture some poor human and force him to take the cure," Severus replied.

"They'd still need to brew the potion every day," he said. "No potion master would knowingly aid a vampire who was forcing someone to take the cure, would he?"

"The cure isn't that complex a formula. Most fourth years could manage it," Severus answered.

"But would someone who'd been out of school for years even think about risking it himself? I know I wouldn't."

"You'd be amazed by what someone even as potion brewing challenged as yourself can manage with the proper incentive," Severus replied with a wry twist of his lips.

The pants and undergarments slid down Severus' long legs. His gaze riveted on Severus' impressive cock with its heavy balls hanging below as it was revealed. He'd seen Severus naked at least once a day all month, but this was the first time he was well enough to properly appreciate the view.

He watched his nude lover cross to the dresser where Severus kept his nightshirts.

Moving quickly, he intercepted him before Severus could open the drawer. "Er, do you have to do that tonight?"

"Do what?" Severus asked, clearly confused.

Feeling like an idiot, he explained, "Wear a nightshirt. I was sort of hoping that we might do some of those things I haven't been well enough to do all month."

"Oh."

The expression on Severus' face wasn't exactly encouraging. Severus appeared almost surprised, or maybe worried. Either way, it wasn't the response he'd been hoping for.

It wasn't until this moment that it occurred to him to question whether Severus would even want him now. Severus' initial involvement in their arrangement had been motivated by his need for blood. That need was gone now. Although he didn't doubt for one second that Severus was completely devoted to him, that didn't necessarily translate into actual physical desire.

His feelings hurt, he quickly said, "We don't have to if you don't want to. It was just a thought."

"You're still recuperating from the effects of the potion. I thought you would be too tired."

The lame excuse only confirmed his worst fears. He could see the lie in Severus' eyes.

"Hoped, more like," he mumbled.

"What did you say?" Severus asked.

Turning back towards the bed, he shrugged out of his robe and said more clearly, "Don't worry about it. Go put on your nightshirt."

Not daring to look back for fear of what Severus would read in his gaze, he climbed into his side of the bed and turned to face the wall.

The silence in the room behind him was very loud.

A couple of minutes later, the bed shifted as Severus joined him.

Normally, when Severus came to bed, they'd end up curled together, even if he wasn't well enough for sex. But tonight he kept his back to Severus.

"Harry?"

He could feel that intense gaze digging into the back of his skull.

"Good night," he said as calmly as possible. Inside, he was shaking, ready to fall apart. After all they'd been through this last month, he'd never thought he'd lose everything because Severus was cured. He'd expected that to make their lives better, not make their sex life redundant or, far worse, something Severus might feel he owed him.

"We're about to start a trip where we will be alone together for a month. I would prefer not to begin with any discord between us," Severus said.

Harry bit his lip and clenched the duvet in his fist. Did Severus expect him to act like nothing were wrong, to just pretend that everything was fine?

"I can't make amends if you won't tell me what I've done wrong," Severus said after a prolonged, tense silence.

"You haven't done anything wrong. You can't help how you feel."

"How I feel?" Severus questioned. He'd never heard Severus sound so lost or bewildered. "Harry, please . . . look at me. Tell me what is wrong."

Feeling like an utter fool, he rolled over to face Severus. It was harder to meet those perceptive, dark eyes than it had been to face Voldemort. Holding himself together by the thinnest of threads, he struggled to keep the accusation out of his voice as he said, "I suppose I just never expected you to go off me because you were cured."

Once the words were out, he immediately wished he could take them back, because they left him totally naked and exposed. He didn't want to feel like the clingy, needy idiot his statement made him out to be. Even when they'd despised each other, Severus had always respected him. He didn't want that to change.

"What do you mean 'gone off you'? I don't understand," Severus said. There was no mockery or arrogance at all in his attitude, only genuine confusion.

"I know this last month I've been . . . less than attractive. I'd've turned anyone off – "

"Are you insane?" Severus interrupted. "You were poisoning yourself daily on my behalf."

"That makes you grateful, not interested. You were only having sex with me in the first place in exchange for blood. Now that you don't need the blood . . . ."

"You think I don't need or want you," Severus completed. At his tight nod, Severus asked, "All this was caused by my hesitation when you asked me not to put on my nightshirt?"

He nodded again, only now noticing that Severus' chest was bare and that he'd left the nightshirt in the drawer. "I know when you're lying to me, Severus, and that line about your not thinking me up to it was rubbish."

"Yes, I suppose it was. Forgive me. It was never my intention to convey . . . a lack of interest."

Although he loved Severus' refined and cultured manner of speaking, there were times the formal mode of address drove him mad. Like now. Needing to cut through the distancing conventions, he demanded, "Then what was your intention? And don't even try an evasion. I could see you didn't want to."

"I suppose that I was . . . nervous," Severus answered after a long hesitation, his entire body stiff with reluctance.

Whenever Severus spoke about his emotions, he always seemed to preface his statement with the words 'I suppose', as though he really had such little familiarity with vocalizing his feelings that he was uncertain of even the language to use.

"Nervous?" he echoed, confused himself now. "Of what?"

"You," Severus replied, holding his gaze.

He could read the truth in those dark, bottomless depths and had no idea how to respond. Finally, he shifted a little closer and said in a softer tone, "I don't understand. Why would you be nervous with me after all this time?"

Since it didn't sound as though Severus were repulsed by him now that he was cured, he reached out to lay his hand on Severus' elbow. There was no flinch or withdrawal at all, thank Merlin. If anything, Severus seemed almost relieved by the contact.

"A number of reasons, all of them doubtless very foolish," Severus said, drawing in a deep breath.

"I'd still like to know," he said.

Severus nodded. "I was experiencing the same doubts you just voiced."

"What?" He couldn't imagine what he'd done to make Severus feel unwanted. "Did I say or do something to – "

"No, it wasn't you. I simply . . . ."

"Yes?" he softly encouraged.

"You must understand, before I met the creature who turned me, I was a total innocent. No, that's misleading. I was . . . completely undesirable, a virtual pariah," Severus corrected himself, as if resolved to give him the whole truth.

Not knowing what to say, he rubbed his lover's arm and offered, "That was a long time ago. Things are different now."

"Yes, however, you did ask what was bothering me."

"Sorry, go on," he said.

"After I was turned . . . well, all I had to do to get someone to desire me was stand close enough to a person for the vampire pheromones to have an effect and kiss her or him. After one kiss, the chemicals in my saliva would ensure that my partner would do anything to be with me. Now, at fifty years old, those powers are gone," Severus stopped, as though his words completely explained his situation.

"Do you still need them? You've got me now," he said into the silence.

"I've got you because of them, because you enjoyed the unique thrill of . . . bedding a vampire enough to offer it your blood," Severus said.

"That was true at first, but it hasn't been only that for months," he corrected. "I fell in love with you months ago. Don't you believe me?"

"I believe that you love me – now, when the memory of all those things I used to be able to do to you is fresh in your flesh." Those worried eyes slipped away from his.

"What does that mean?" Whatever it meant, he knew he wasn't going to like it.

"It means that at more than fifty years old, I find myself involved with a handsome young man more than twenty years my junior, a young man who could have anyone he desired, simply for the asking. It was the unique aspects of my vampire sexuality that initially attracted this young man to me. And now . . . now I have nothing extraordinary to offer him, nothing save a body that all others have found wanting."

Harry could barely breathe in the silence that followed.

"Nothing extraordinary? Oh, Severus." Swallowing hard, he pulled Severus into his arms and held him tight. He was relieved to feel Severus return the embrace, if a little more desperately than he would have hoped. After a long time, he said, "You are extraordinary, not just the sex."

"You said yourself during the final time I fed that you'd miss it," Severus reminded.

He'd never imagined his words could have this much effect on Severus. "I'm going to miss the intimacy of it, not just the thrill. When you were feeding, you were totally focused on me. It was my blood keeping you alive and I was your entire world. That's different now. You don't need me that way anymore. You never will again."

Severus lifted his head and pulled back some so that their gazes met. "I may not require your blood for my continued survival, but I will always require your presence. Until the day you walk out that door, and even after, you will be . . . my entire world, as you put it."

Faced with that level stare, he couldn't dispute the truth before him, any more than he could ignore the fact that Severus believed with all his heart that he would abandon him in time

"Why can't you believe that it's the same for me?" he lamented, brushing Severus' hair back from his brow. "I love you so much that I was willing to drink your blood so that we could have a normal life together. I don't know what more I can do to prove myself to you. Why can't you believe me?"

Severus' gaze shifted away for a moment. Seeming to steel himself, Severus looked back and softly said, "Because my mirror works now. Because all the things that made me special are lost, and there is only this disappointing shell and disagreeable personality left."

Recognizing that he could protest until he was blue in the face and still have no success at convincing Severus of the truth, he pushed Severus flat onto his back and rolled on top of him. Severus' breath was still puffing out his mouth at the force of his impact when he lowered his head and covered those thin lips with his own. Putting everything he felt for Severus in that melding of their mouths, he kissed his uncertain lover with a savage desperation.

Pressing his tongue into Severus' startled mouth, he delved deep and long. They'd kissed dozens of times since the change, but not open-mouthed and passionately like this.

Severus even tasted different now. That sweet chemical that had given Harry such a heady rush was gone. What remained was very human, and just as arousing in its own way. Severus mightn't be able to get him high with his kisses anymore, but the helpless surrender of his proud lover's mouth proved an even greater rush.

When he pulled back for breath, he gazed down into black eyes that were glittering with sexual heat and said, "That shell you're disparaging is my lover, so show some respect when you talk about him. As for his personality – he's good to me. That's all I ask for. Nothing's been lost that we haven't gained something better for in exchange."

"What have we gained to replace what I used to be able to make you feel in bed?" Severus questioned.

He could see how much of a concern this was to Severus.

He'd been so afraid that Severus wouldn't have any interest in him now that he no longer needed his blood that he'd never considered the opposite, that Severus might fear losing him. He supposed his lover's worries made sense. Severus was more than twenty years older than him. He knew from listening to some of the blokes he worked with who had similar inclinations that young men often tired of their older lovers after the initial thrill wore off.

But he wasn't like most men his age. He'd been broken inside until Severus' love healed him.

Smiling gently down into those troubled, harsh features, he answered, "Well, for one thing, I can kiss you for more than a few minutes without getting dizzy or losing my focus. In fact, I can kiss you the entire time I'm inside you now. I can go for hours with my mouth locked to yours as I pump in and out, in and out . . . how's that for starters?"

"Hours?" Severus latched onto what seemed the most important word to him. His raised eyebrow eloquently stated his doubt.

"Hours," he answered in the tone of a promise. "Would you like a demonstration?"

"Yes, although I sincerely doubt that either of us will be able to hold out for more than five minutes tonight," Severus answered.

He chuckled. "You could be right about that, but there's no harm in trying, right?"

"If only for the sake of scientific investigation," Severus replied in a playful tone that told him that he'd managed jolly Severus over the worst of his insecurities – for the moment.

He knew Severus well enough to know that these concerns would always haunt him to some degree. The most he could hope for was to give Severus nothing to fuel those worries.

Well enough now to do wordless magic, he summoned the lubricant bottle from the nearby nightstand drawer. Placing it to the right of Severus' shoulder, he leaned in and kissed his lover again, long and deep.

He kept their mouths together while his hands stroked restlessly over Severus' sides and arms, everywhere he could reach. But finally, he wanted to taste more.

Lifting his head, he kissed over Severus' jaw to spend a long time nuzzling that snowy white throat. Severus moaned as he licked behind his ear, his lower body arching up at him.

From neck to collarbone, and then down to those tender nipples, he followed the well-known path, licking and kissing everywhere while Severus moaned between panting breaths. Sucking a nipple, he let his fingertips trail down the centre of that hairless, flat belly. He stroked over the soft hair of the pubic mound, then onto the rock hard shaft that was poking up from below.

Severus hissed at the chance contact. When he collected the moist cock into his hand and gave a tentative squeeze, Severus released a whimpering sound like nothing he had ever heard before.

Wondering if he'd squeezed too tight, he lifted his head to stare down at his companion. Severus' face was flushed and torn with emotion. His always in control lover didn't usually look like that until he was coming.

"You all right?" he asked.

Severus dragged in a shuddery breath and then rasped out, "I . . . it doesn't normally feel like this."

"Like what?" he asked, worried now. Slytherin's cure could have done anything to Severus' system.

"This . . . intense. Usually, I'm so focused on your blood being so close that . . . ahhhh . . . ." Severus words broke off as Harry used his tongue tip to trace a delicate pattern across Severus' glistening glans.

Seeing how devastatingly moved Severus was, he used his tongue to tickle the sweet spot on the cock's underside, right below the head. The cry that inspired damn near rocked the bed.

A sheen of sweat broke out all over Severus as his dark head began to toss on the pillow.

Loving the effect he was having, he licked downwards, mouthing Severus' heavy balls. He spent a long time licking and sucking all his lover's musky bits. Severus was a sensual smorgasbord of contrasting tastes, scents, and tactile sensations. There was the salt of sweat and the bitter flavour of the clear precum leaking out that magnificent cock head. The sweet, arousing smell of musk was highlighted by the darker, more provocative scent of the entrance to Severus' body. As for touch, the contrast between that iron hard shaft and the velvet softness of Severus' testicles was totally enthralling. Harry took his time, pleasuring Severus until his lover's cock was about to burst and was throbbing with visible need, his balls pulled up tight to his body.

Only then did he suck that magnificent shaft into his mouth. Opening wide, he took Severus deep into his throat and began to suck and bob in the rhythm he remembered Severus loving.

Severus cried out, his sobs increasingly plaintive as he thrust deeply into his throat.

Bracing Severus' hips to guide his thrusts, he took him as deep as Severus could go. Severus' fingers locked in his hair, holding his head.

His lover was once again proven correct. They couldn't hold out for hours.

He'd barely gotten three minutes in when Severus exploded down his throat with a resounding cry. He swallowed around the spasming cock, milking every drop out of it.

When the shaft was limp against his tongue, he pulled up from it, leaving a soft kiss on its shrunken length.

Instead of pulling back, he drew Severus' left ball back into his mouth and sucked it a while. Then he released it to move on to the perineum and more interesting areas. He spread Severus' limp thighs further apart and lifted him up a bit for easier access.

"Mmmm . . . what are you . . . oh . . . ahhhh . . . ." his normally articulate lover apparently lost all ability to verbalize as Harry's tongue slid back behind the perineum to the tight guarded aperture there.

As many times as Harry had touched Severus here and taken him, he'd never had his tongue inside him before. It took some getting used to. In some ways, squashing your face between someone's buttocks and getting so up close that you could smell and taste them was more intimate than fucking.

Harry hadn't been sure until this very moment if he'd even be able to do it. But now that he was here and his tongue was circling that clenched guardian muscle and he could hear Severus' ecstatic cries, he was as addicted to it as he'd been to Severus' vampire saliva. Knowing he could reduce his reserved and often aloof lover to an inarticulate, pleading wreck was a heady rush.

Harry spent a long time rimming that tight muscle before pushing his tongue up its dark centre.

He'd thought that he was getting used to Severus' cries, but the one Severus released now was so primal that it made all the others sound refined. The raw need in the cry shot a bolt of fire straight to Harry's own cock. He wanted to move in and take what was so freely offered to him, but this time was about introducing Severus to the new delights his now completely human body could give him.

His desire mounting with every second, Harry spent a long time slicking that tight opening, learning it's every pucker and curve. Only when he knew it by heart did he raise his head and silently levitate the lubricant bottle into his hand.

As he pushed Severus' knees up against his shoulders, Severus' dazed eyes settled upon him. His lover's long, strong boned face was twisted with rapture. Completely exposed and vulnerable, Severus was almost unrecognisable as Hogwarts' snarling, haughty potions master.

Harry slathered some of the balsam-scented oil onto his fingers and pressed them against that dark ring of muscle. They entered easily. In barely no time at all, Severus was oiled, stretched, and ready.

Withdrawing his fingers, he positioned his cock, staying paused there, pushed up against the opening, until Severus opened his eyes and met his gaze again.

Both their bodies were so slick with sweat that it coated between their skin everywhere they were pressed together.

"Next time you find yourself thinking that we've lost something or that I might want someone else, you remember this." He nudged into the lubed sphincter with a groan and pushed in further. Severus gripped him tight as an organic sheathe. "You're mine - heart, body, and soul." The feel of that tight channel squeezing him robbed him of the ability to speak for a moment. When he thought he could handle verbalization again, he choked out, "You belong to me, now and forever. I'm not giving you up for someone younger or for some pretty face. You think someone else could give me this?" He thrust at the angle he knew would nail Severus' prostate.

The cry sounded as though it were torn from the bottom of Severus' very soul. Severus' fingernails dug into his bare shoulders and pulled him closer.

"Tell me. I want to hear it. Who do you belong to?" he grated out, freezing just within Severus' body.

The other man looked totally gone. Severus' glittering eyes were watching him with next to no intelligence, just raw need.

"Tell me," he insisted, pulling all the way out. "Who do you belong to?"

Distress turned Severus' harsh boned face into a study in lines and desperation as he visibly tried to think. "Harry . . . ."

It was a plea, not an answer.

"Who do you belong to?" he repeated, holding still. The stinging sweat dripped off his face to land on the man below him.

Severus seemed to rally himself. With an apparent effort, he croaked. "You. I be-long to you."

"And I keep what's mine," he promised, finally sinking back in. Thrusting in rhythm with his words, he rasped. "You're mine . . .mine . . . mine . . . and I love you . . . love you . . . love you . . . ."

Then the pleasure became too much and he lost words. Pressing Severus' body tight onto itself, he pushed forward until their mouths met and he was buried to the hilt deep within. He pushed his tongue into Severus' mouth and mimicked the rhythm of his cock, in and out, again and again and again.

Severus' hard shaft was trapped between Severus' belly and Harry's chest. Each time he thrust in, it was squeezed between their bodies, and Severus would make a crying, needy sound into their kiss.

Harry kept it up as long as he could, which was a lot longer than he had any right to expect coming off the month of debilitating illness he'd had. Finally, the pleasure rocking his system became too intense to endure. All that brilliant, burning heat coalesced into one sizzling bolt of ecstasy. It seared through every cell in Harry's body, transmuting him into pure delight.

With one last, wild plunge, he came deep inside Severus. At almost the same instant, Severus exploded between them for the second time that night, bathing them both with his sticky gift.

Every bit of energy Harry possessed seemed to drain out of him with his seed. He slumped onto Severus, nearly as boneless as he'd be after passing out from a feeding.

Regret flashed through him as he felt himself slip out of Severus. He'd never had a connection like this with another human being in his entire life. Ridiculous as it might sound, but when he was inside Severus, he felt like their very souls were touching. Each time his limp penis slid out, the loss was almost unbearable.

He was no help at all as Severus unfolded himself beneath him and stretched his legs out flat on the bed. Rather than moving him off to make it easier to straighten out, Severus clutched him tight all the while, until he lay face flat on Severus with his lover's long legs twined over his calves and Severus' strong arms banding him tightly.

One of Severus' hands left him long enough to pull the duvet over them both, but it returned as soon as they were shielded from the dungeon's chill.

Realizing that he'd lost it a bit, he roused himself enough to whisper, "Are you all right?"

Severus snorted. "I'm a good deal more than 'all right'. I dare say that nothing we see or do on our holiday will compare to what we just experienced."

Pleased by the compliment, he smiled against Severus' smooth chest and said, "You're wrong about that. I'm going to nail you on a moonlit beach, then in a sun-drenched vineyard, and on a boat rocking on the Aegean Sea, and – "

"Did you say in a vineyard?" Severus asked.

"Yes." He grinned at the shocked tone. "Maybe in a museum or two. I know you're going to want to get some culture in while we're there. This was just the start. I'm going to spend the rest of my days and nights proving to you just how extraordinary you are, Severus Snape, and how very much I love you."

Harry waited, wondering what Severus would say to that. He knew that open avowals sometimes made his reticent lover uncomfortable. He tried to content himself with the few times Severus had actually broken down and admitted to loving him, but sometimes, like now, he really longed to hear the words.

After a prolonged pause, Severus said, "Harry?"

Hearing that all humour had left his lover's voice, he asked in a more serious tone himself, "Yes?"

He didn't know why he suddenly felt so nervous.

"I used to dread every coming dawn. You . . . changed all that. You've given me life, and I'm not referring solely to the cure you gave me. I . . .love you very deeply. I always will."

All choked up, he kissed the smooth chest under his cheek and tightened his arms around Severus. He hadn't thought that Severus could give him that kind of verbal reassurance. "It's the same for me. I was dying of loneliness before you."

Severus bent down to press a kiss to the scar on his brow. "Never again. I'm yours."

"And I hold onto what's mine," he promised around a yawn. "Works out good, that – don't you think?"

"Mmmmm," Severus' tone was thick with sleep.

Shocked, because he'd never imagined Severus Snape could be so openly loving, he shifted into a more comfortable position. He had a feeling that this was only the start of the surprises his lover had in store for him.

Maybe the former saviour of the Wizarding World and a former vampire could find love and happiness together, he thought as he drifted off. Stranger things had happened, after all.

The End

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