Whispers of Intent


Tira Nog

Harry Potter took a deep breath as he stepped through the pub door. Whispers wasn't your typical Wizarding pub. It was one of the few places in the Wizarding World where wizards of certain predilections could meet other like-minded wizards. Unlike the similar establishments on Knockturn Alley, Whispers had a certain air of – if not respectability, then at least safety. A man could come into Whispers and know he'd still be alive come morning. That couldn't be said about some of the other places Harry had frequented in his younger days.

As an Auror, he knew that he probably shouldn't be here at all. Prejudice against same-sex relationships was still rampant. Were he any Auror other than Harry Potter, there was every chance he would lose his job for being spotted in a place like this. But he was Harry Potter. He figured after all the grief his celebrity status had brought him, it was only fair that he be allowed to trade on it on occasion.

The inside of the pub wasn't much brighter than the midnight street outside had been, but it was warmer. The heat and smoke of a wood fire embraced him as Harry shook off the cold inside the doorway. A spell had kept the incessant rain off him, but there wasn't a spell in the world that could keep the damp from penetrating.

Wiping the moisture from his glasses, which he'd once again forgotten to spell, Harry peered owlishly around the low-lit pub. The music was a little too slow for his tastes, more a waltz than anything, but his gaze moved appreciatively over the wizards who were pressed tight together, slow-dancing on the dance floor.

He knew he was a sentimental fool, but whenever he saw a scene like that, he always imagined that the wizards embracing and slowly swaying to the music were long-term lovers rather than the far more likely one-night-stands that they were. There was a time he'd wished for something like that, a partner he could hold close and cherish, but reality had taught him a harsh lesson about what the Boy Who Lived could and couldn't have.

His celebrity status was simply too huge an obstacle. The wizards it attracted wanted him for all the wrong reasons, and the wizards Harry found himself drawn to were always too worried about the publicity to risk more than a one-night-stand. He'd been bitter about it for years, but now at thirty-three, he was resigned to his fate.

He came to Whispers when he couldn't hold out any longer, but mostly, he went it alone. Life hadn't turned out as he'd thought it would, but then, whose had? Certainly no one Harry knew.

Tearing his eyes away from the hypnotically shifting couples, Harry made his way to the bar. Though he'd been certain to make sure his bangs were concealing the lightning bolt scar on his forehead, he heard the excited susurration that passed through the clientele as he was recognized.

Harry used to hate that, but these days, he used it to his advantage. Once word on who he was spread through the place, he usually had his pick of partners. It made it easier, if seedier. When he was younger, he used to talk to potential lovers to try to establish some kind of connection with them. These days he just picked out who looked hottest and fucked them. He hated it, but need always outweighed his morals.

"Firewhiskey," Harry told the chubby blond bartender when he finally reached him. The Friday night crowd was pretty thick.

Harry was taking his first sip of the harsh liquor when someone called his name.


He turned, because normally it was 'Are you Harry Potter?' or 'I've read so much about you,' not just his first name, said so familiarly.

The face was very familiar. It took him a minute to place the name of the dark-haired, good-looking wizard who'd sidled up to the bar beside him. Sixteen years had passed since he'd left Hogwarts, and he hadn't seen the other man since. With difficulty, Harry pulled the wizard's name out of the thousands of names he'd accumulated over the years.

"It is you! I never would have expected to see you in a place like this. I didn't even know you were gay!" Justin Finch-Fletchley exclaimed, patting Harry on the shoulder as if they'd been best of friends.

That was another thing his celebrity status encouraged. People who'd barely given him the time of day when young now tended to over-exaggerate the closeness of their prior association.

Since Justin had never been really awful to him, Harry pasted a smile on his face and tried to look happy about the chance encounter. "Hello, Justin. How are you?"

Justin's peaches-and-cream cheeks turned bright pink. He was obviously delighted that Harry had recognized him.

"Fine, Harry. I'm fine," Justin nervously stammered. "I guess I don't have to ask how you're doing. I read about your adventures in the papers every day. You've done quite well for yourself."

For a man who had no hope of ever forming a satisfying relationship, he supposed that was true. The comment, however, put Justin immediately out of the running for tonight's flavour of the month. Suppressing a grimace, Harry shrugged and said, "You know how the papers exaggerate."

"Yes, but still . . . you've got quite the life, haven't you? They say that you're so good an Auror that even Mad Eye Moody's record dulls in comparison," Justin enthused.

Desperately trying to change the subject, Harry asked, "So what are you doing these days?"

Justin gave a self-deprecating smile and answered, "I'm a mediwiz at St. Mungo's," sounding like saving lives on a daily basis wasn't something that could possibly compare to being an Auror.

"Hey, that's great," Harry said.

"I suppose. It's nothing like what you do, though." The awkward pause that always came when people who'd barely known him tried to make contact set in. Justin broke it with the question Harry had been dreading. "So, how are Hermione and Ron these days?"

Telling himself that it wasn't mature to grit his teeth, Harry fielded the inquiry as best he could. "Fine, last time I saw them."

Harry didn't add that the stretch between when he'd last seen Ron was only a few years shorter than when he'd last seen Justin. Breaking your best friend's kid sister's heart wasn't conducive to endearing yourself to a family. It had been more than thirteen years since he'd seen any of the Weasleys, other than Percy, whom he occasionally passed at the Ministry office. As for Hermione, well, he saw Hermione, but the rift between Ron and him had all but destroyed their closeness as well. They tried, but it was painful to them both.

Justin didn't need to hear any of that, however.

"Oh, that's wonderful," Justin answered, his awkwardness growing by the minute.

Harry hoped that Justin wasn't working up his courage to proposition him. This fawning was hard enough to take from strangers, let alone from people who'd actually known him and should have known better.

A bubble of uncomfortable silence seemed to isolate them from the noisy, busy bar for a moment.

Visibly searching for conversational gambits, Justin nervously offered, "You'll never believe who's here."

Wincing at the prospect of yet another of these god awful reunions, Harry wondered if he should just forget about getting laid tonight and head home. Still, his manners wouldn't allow him to simply ignore Justin's attempt, so he gamely asked, "Who?"

"Snape," Justin said, with his first real grin.

It was amazing, really, the level of emotion that simple name could inspire in him. He'd once hated Snape more than Voldemort. He hadn't seen the man since the trials sixteen years ago.

"No way," Harry denied. But he could see no trace of joking in that attractive face.

"Really," Justin said and pointed off to the shadows at their right. "He's at a table over in the corner there. It shocked the hell out of me the first time I saw him here. I come here pretty regularly. Snape shows up a couple of times a month."

"Did you ever – " Harry found himself voicing a totally inappropriate question, because the idea of his old nemesis frequenting a gay Wizarding bar was so beyond his capacity to comprehend that he temporarily lost control of his mouth.

Justin appeared scandalized by the suggestion. "Are you insane? He mightn't be my potions teacher anymore, but Snape is still the greasy, ugly bastard he was back in school. It's a wonder he gets laid at all."

"Does he get laid?" Once again, Harry's question escaped without benefit of forethought.

"I saw him leave with a wizard once at closing time, but mostly, he just sits there and watches the dancers, then leaves alone," Justin said.

Harry was intrigued in spite of himself. He had never imagined that Snape might be a homosexual. With all the horrible, nasty things he'd said and thought about the man in school, that idea had never crossed his mind. But then, he hadn't thought of any of his former teaches as sexual beings. Still didn't, in truth. Just the idea of thinking of Minerva or Hagrid that way was enough to short-circuit his brain.

But Snape was apparently here in the flesh, and that was just too much of a novelty to pass up. Picking up his firewhiskey, Harry gave Justin's arm a friendly pat and said, "Good seeing you again, Justin," and headed over to where Justin had said Snape's table was.

He could feel Justin’s shocked stare on his back the entire way.

Harry hadn't a clue what he'd say to Snape, but even if they got into one of their shouting matches, it would have to beat the awkward small talk he'd been attempting with Justin. The one thing he knew for certain was that Snape wouldn't act like a star-struck sycophant.

Away from the bar, it was darker. Harry had trouble distinguishing the tables on the far side of the dance floor, but when he'd circumvented the dancers, he finally saw the tables.

It took Harry barely a heartbeat to pick out the familiar, menacing figure from his schooldays. Even after more than fourteen years as an Auror, Harry still found Snape an intimidating sight.

The blighter hadn't changed much. His hair was longer, unfashionably so. Snape wore it pulled back in a ponytail now, which only accentuated the stark, homely lines of his long, angular face and oversized nose. The black robes and the jacket with the dozens of buttons might have been the very same ones Snape had worn at Hogwarts.

Harry stood in the shadows, taking a long moment to observe his former teacher, debating the wisdom of even attempting to make contact. It wasn't as if Snape and he had ever had an amicable relationship. Even when Harry had testified on Snape's behalf at the trials, the man had been a bloody terror to him, insulting and sniping at him every other minute.

No, there had definitely been no love lost between them, but . . . Harry had known Snape, in a way that he'd never known Justin or perhaps any other person in his life. For all their differences and all the hatred between them, they'd both been Dumbledore's men to the very end, although it had taken Harry some time to understand that.

If nothing else, Harry figured he'd get some decent conversation out of Snape, providing the man agreed to speak to him at all. Harry was highly aware of the fact that Snape was perfectly capable of making a scene that would make the front page of the Daily Prophet faster than his own marriage engagement would. As if.

"Still skulking in the shadows, Potter?" the familiar, deep voice from his Potions class drawled from ten feet away. "Either get over here and sit down or leave . . . before I hex you."

Harry jumped. He should have been completely invisible in the shadows. He wasn't used to dealing with anyone as observant as he was, at least, not outside of work. But he'd always had a bad habit of underestimating Snape. It didn't surprise him at all that the man had lost none of his edge over the years.

Thinking that the invitation to sit, however rudely voiced, indicated that Snape might be inclined to suffer his company, Harry crossed the few feet that separated them. He was highly conscious of Snape's dark gaze upon him as he approached the small, isolated table and slid smoothly into the empty chair opposite Snape.

Absurdly enough, Harry found himself wishing that he was taller, that he could have made a better impression.

"How’d you know I was there?" Harry asked, genuinely curious.

"For all the commotion your arrival caused, you might just as well have one of your minions sound a trumpet to announce your arrival," Snape said. "Subtlety and notoriety don't mix well."

"That explains when I entered the pub, but I was standing in the shadows a moment ago. I could barely see you and you're more in the light than I was," Harry said.

"It isn't as though your power has decreased any over the years," Snape said. "Any wizard who felt that level of energy crackle behind him would have been on guard."

"Yet, you're the only one who felt it," Harry said.

Snape shrugged. "This isn't the type of place that attracts those dedicated to the enhancement of their magic. I must admit to some surprise at seeing you in such an establishment, Potter."

Harry was stunned to feel a smile touch his own lips at Snape's words. They really weren't all that different from what Justin had said to him, but somehow the impact wasn't quite the same. "I was about to say the same thing, Professor."

"I haven't suffered that title for sixteen years now; I'm relieved to say," Snape corrected.

"I'd heard you'd left Hogwarts without telling anyone where you were going or what you were doing," Harry said, stunned by how amicably things were going. He knew that wouldn't last, but it was a nice change from the enmity he remembered. Figuring that they might as well get the shouting over with now, he added with his usual cheek, "Some of the rumours were . . . fairly far-fetched. One version had you in Italy, running an owl-order business for illegal poisons. Another claimed you'd started a Dark Arts school to rival Durmstrang. The one I liked best said you'd gotten filthy rich manufacturing beauty products. So, which is it? The poisons, the school, or the beauty aids?"

Sixteen years ago that kind of question would have gotten him a roar of fury and six months' detention. But tonight Snape merely stared at him a long moment before softly answering, "Although I admit the poison premise sounds interesting, I fear that my work is now boringly legal. And if it weren't, do you believe I'd be so dense as to tell an Auror if I were involved in the sale of illegal poisons?"

"The school then?" Harry said, startled to realize that he was actually teasing Severus Snape – and getting away with it. So far. He was highly conscious of the fact that that could change any second.

"Surely, you can't have forgotten my aptitude for teaching," Snape said, completely deadpan.

"So, it is the beauty products, then?" Harry asked with a huge, genuine smile. Normally, when he came to Whispers, all his smiles were forced. Truth told, he didn't smile much at all these days. That Severus Snape would inspire the first real one in what felt like forever was astonishing.

"Really, Potter. Would even someone with your pathetic intelligence purchase a beauty product manufactured by someone with my face and hair?" Snape asked with shocking self-honesty.

Harry found himself chuckling. "In that case, what are you doing – providing it's something you can tell an Auror, of course."

"If you must know, I've been doing experimental research on healing potions. I can't say that it has made me filthy rich, but it has kept me quite comfortable," Snape said.

"I'm glad to hear it," Harry said. He was intimately acquainted with the narrow, suspicious look Snape turned on him in response to that.

"Is that so? I would have thought you would have liked to see me starving on the streets," Snape said.

Harry held that probing gaze. "Once, maybe, when I was still in school. Even you have to admit that you were never exactly . . . kind to me when I was your student."

"Perhaps not, but, then, I am not a kind man," Snape answered, his left brow rising as if to accentuate his point.

"To be honest, I'm a little surprised by how . . . amenable you're being tonight," Harry hesitantly admitted.

"I wouldn't have thought your vocabulary included a word like 'amenable'," Snape remarked, but it wasn't said in a contentious tone.

"I'm just full of surprises," Harry countered. Deliberately not squirming as those inky eyes continued to scour his features, Harry continued with, "But, seriously, I was sure you'd be belittling me by now."

"You don't find comments about your pathetic intelligence and inadequate vocabulary belittling?" Snape enquired.

"Not from you," Harry answered. Snape had always known how to get under his skin, instinctively knowing which insults would cut him the worst. From Snape, detrimental comments on his intelligence and vocabulary were nearly compliments.

"I may not be a kind man, Potter, but I do acknowledge my debts," Snape said, holding his gaze. "There was a time when you could have taken your revenge and condemned or ruined me. Perhaps even had me killed. Instead, you argued my case before the Ministry and forced them to release me with the same honours every other member of the Order received."

"I didn't do anything special," Harry denied, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. The last thing he wanted was Snape's gratitude. He remembered how bitter being indebted to his father had made Snape. Harry had no desire to continue that particular family tradition.

"No? Do the words 'If you put Snape in Azkaban, you have to put me there too, because he was following Albus Dumbledore's direct commands the same way I was!' sound familiar?" Snape asked in a mild tone Harry had never heard him use.

"I didn't do it for your sake," Harry protested. "I did it because it was what Professor Dumbledore would have wanted me to do."

Snape nodded, still seeming . . . non-aggressive. "I realize that. It's why I have never . . . troubled you with no doubt unwelcome expressions of gratitude."

"You didn't seem all that grateful at the time, if you don't mind my saying, sir," Harry pointed out carefully, not wanting to offend, but wanting honesty.

To his shock, Snape answered him rationally instead of losing his temper. "I suppose that's true. At the time . . . death seemed to be the best I could hope for, and, if we're being honest, I didn't trust you. Until the very moment the Ministry released me, I expected you to turn around and demand that I receive the Dementor's Kiss."

Harry digested that in silence, having expected nothing else. The only wonder was that Snape would openly admit it to him. "I would never have asked for that, even if I'd still wanted you dead for what you did to Professor Dumbledore."

A shadow passed across Snape's hitherto unreadable face when Harry mentioned the horrible night Dumbledore had died. After a long, strained silence, Snape quietly admitted, "Perhaps I should have known that. Albus always held you in the highest regard, even though I could never comprehend why. But even if I had been . . . of a different, nobler nature. . . I could hardly have been deemed rational at that time."

Harry thought back to those days – all the senseless deaths, Voldemort's atrocities, the constant terror they'd all lived under. Towards the end there, Snape had been on the run from both sides. Harry couldn't even begin to imagine what that must have felt like. He still had nightmares about his own experiences, and he'd only had to worry about eluding one side.

"None of us could, sir, not after what we'd been through," Harry found himself answering. "And . . . as for noble, you did what Professor Dumbledore asked of you for the good of us all, even though you knew you would be signing your own death warrant by following his orders."

"I must admit that I'm shocked to hear you say that," Snape said.

Harry gave a humourless chuckle. "It took me a while to figure it out, and even after I did . . . well, I hardly defended you in the proper spirit back then. I did it as much to get up the Minister's nose as to help you. So, you don't really owe me anything."

"Don't I?" Snape questioned. "Regardless of your motivation, you still did it. That . . . matters."

"You seem . . . very different," Harry confessed. If it weren't for the scimitar sarcastic edge, he would almost have thought this man a complete stranger. With a start, Harry realized that even if Snape hadn't changed, that was still the truth. He had never really known what made Snape tick when he was younger, never seen him as anything but a cruel tyrant.

"For more than fifteen years, I haven't had to infiltrate an insane, sadistic megalomaniac's forces while simultaneously attempting to teach a complex subject like Potions to a schoolful of brainless dunderheads," Snape said.

"I guess the stress was severe," Harry said, only now realizing what this man must have gone through every time he answered one of Voldemort's summonses. His dreams and interactions with Voldemort had shown Harry how completely savage the dark lord could be. Snape must have lived in constant fear of his life back then. Harry realized that he'd never known Snape when he wasn't living under that shadow. Snape had been alerted to his former master's survival from the year Harry had first entered Hogwarts, when Quirrell had been host to Voldemort while Voldemort tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone. The worry and strain as Snape waited for Voldemort's inevitable return to power must have weighed on him horribly. Only now, as an adult, could Harry imagine what it must have been like for Snape, waiting day after day, dreading Voldemort's return and the revenge the madman would wreak upon his former servants. Was it any wonder that Snape had been so foul-tempered?

"It would be easy to blame my behaviour completely on stress, but we both know my natural inclinations tend towards cruelty," Snape said.

Only Snape wasn't being particularly cruel now, Harry realized. In fact, if this were anyone but Snape, Harry might have found the man's cutting honesty appealing.

"There's that," Harry said, not sure how to reply.

"I'm not the only one who's changed," Snape said in that rich, hypnotic voice that had always been the only thing Harry had liked about him.

Recognizing how true that was, and aware of what Snape might have said to detail how he'd changed, Harry gave a shrug and a wry, "I suppose even I had to grow up eventually, sir."

"You can dispense with the 'sir', Potter. I'm not your teacher anymore," Snape said.

"What shall I call you, then?" Harry asked.

"My name would do," Snape said, heavy on the sarcasm.

Harry considered it. "Calling you Snape feels disrespectful somehow."

Even though Snape's face revealed nothing of what he was feeling, Harry sensed he'd surprised him. After a moment's thought, Snape said, minus the sarcasm, "You might try 'Severus', then."

Feeling as if he'd been paid a great honour, Harry grinned and said, "All right, Severus. I'm still Harry."

"That you most certainly are . . . Harry," Snape replied, clearly almost choking over the name.

Harry didn't even try to hold back his laughter this time. When he calmed, he said, "You can still call me Potter if it makes you happy."

Harry took a sip of his firewhiskey and regarded the man sitting across the table from him. It was truly bizarre that he would be sitting here in a gay bar laughing with Severus Snape of all people.

He'd just opened his mouth to ask Snape what type of medicinal potions he was researching when someone touched his shoulder.

"Harry Potter?"

Harry turned to stare up into the completely unfamiliar, but breathtakingly handsome blond wizard's face. The stranger was so good-looking that Harry suspected a glamour must be at work. No normal human was that perfect without magical assistance. The guy made Muggle movie stars seem plain, he glowed so brightly.

"Yes?" Harry cautiously responded.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw you sitting here. I've wanted to meet you for so long. I'd heard you stop in here once in a while. Never thought I'd get so lucky as to actually meet you." As if remembering his manners, the fast-talking, athletic blond stuck out his right hand and introduced himself, "Brate Collins."

"Brate," Harry acknowledged, not taking the hand.

Collins let it drop without issue. His smile brightening, to a truly blinding level, Collins continued, "Look, I know this is going to sound very forward, but would you like to . . . hook up? I've read so much about you that I feel I know you, and, I promise you won't be disappointed."

The smile Collins graced him with would have melted icebergs.

If Harry had seen this man before he'd started talking to Snape, he might have been the one making that kind of advance. As it was, he was hard pressed to keep the anger out of his voice as he responded, "Excuse me, but did you happen to notice that you just interrupted a private conversation I was having?"

Collins' stunning blue eyes flickered Snape's way. The utterly dismissive expression that followed his glance turned that attractive face into something truly ugly. In a tone that wasn't quite low enough to be inaudible to where Snape was sitting two feet away, Collins stage whispered. "You can do better than that, Harry. The geezer's old enough to be your father."

The absolute stupidity of people never ceased to amaze Harry.

Seeing Snape stiffen, Harry quickly answered before his former teacher could curse the moron, "First off, that 'geezer' is an old friend of mine. Secondly, if it weren't for him, Voldemort would never have been defeated. And lastly, if you think I'd have the poor taste to sleep with someone so utterly boorish, you're sadly mistaken. Get out of here, before I let the 'geezer' here teach you a thing or two about manners and duelling."

Collins' face blanched at the word 'duelling', and then filled with colour as he skulked away.

"You didn't have to do that on my behalf, Potter," Snape said in the irritated tone Harry remembered from his school years.

"I didn't," Harry replied. "You can't imagine that I'd be interested in someone that rude?"

"Manners are not usually in high demand here," Snape said in a less aggressive tone. "He was very handsome."

"He was wearing a glamour, and, even if he weren't . . . . One one-night-stand is very much like another. It wouldn't have worked out anyway," Harry answered.

"How's that?" Snape enquired, seeming genuinely interested.

"It's gotten so I've almost developed a radar for picking out the ones I'll have trouble with – "

"Radar?" Snape asked, clearly unfamiliar with the Muggle device.

"It's a Muggle machine that detects airplanes and missiles long before they're visible to the naked eye," Harry quickly explained.

"And you have this radar for . . . wizards you're not compatible with?" Snape questioned.

"Well, it usually turns out to be most wizards. You know what it's like. You get to a certain point in the proceedings and it always becomes a tussle to see who will be on top," Harry said, only belatedly realizing that his brain had once again parted ways with his mouth and that he was sitting here talking sex with his former teacher.

But Snape didn't appear scandalized or even shocked. Holding his gaze, Snape replied in a strangely inflected tone, "No, I'm afraid I don't."

"Don't what?" Harry asked, feeling like he was losing track of the conversation. How could Snape not know? Every wizard knew.

"Don't know what it's like to tussle over who will be on top, as you so elegantly phrased it," Snape replied.

"But how can you not know?" Harry tried to keep his voice level. Snape wouldn't be here if he weren't gay, and every gay wizard had to deal with the same inhibitions when it came to penetrative sex.

Snape merely raised an eyebrow and stared at him expectantly.

It took a long time for the penny to drop, but when it did, Harry could feel his cheeks turn to flame. "Oh."

The corners of Snape's mouth twitched up in what might have been a stifled smile at his reaction.

Harry considered what he'd learned. There was only one reason why Snape wouldn't know about those dominance issues – if it weren't something he required. Snape had always seemed such a control freak to him that Harry couldn't imagine him not preferring to top. Wizards who didn't want to take the dominant role in bed were rare. Harry realized that were this anyone other than Severus Snape, he could probably have had his pick of partners every night he came in here. Even without changing his appearance, Snape would have been immensely popular. Harry knew it was the man's abrasive personality that kept him sitting here alone night after night like Justin said he did.

Snape seemed completely unperturbed by their topic of conversation. Watching Harry out of those bottomless black eyes, he took a sip of the gold-coloured drink on the table before him.

As the silence stretched between them, Harry wasn't sure what to say next. Knowing which position Snape preferred in bed was more than he'd ever thought he'd want to know about Snape. Sixteen years ago, he would have had a definite yuck response to this kind of illumination.

Only, Harry was surprised to find that there was no repulsion factor at all. To the contrary, he was . . . intrigued.

The discovery had thrown him off centre. He felt unaccountably agitated. His pulse was racing madly, his breathing shallow, the room suddenly seemed unnaturally hot. Absolutely flabbergasted, Harry recognized his physical symptoms for what they were. He hadn't felt like this in so long that he'd all but forgotten what it felt like to be aroused.

Harry knew that in light of their tumultuous past, the idea that was flitting through his mind was completely insane. He had to be totally mental to even consider what he was thinking . . . only, it had been so horribly long since he'd felt any true excitement that he couldn't ignore it when he did, regardless of the unsuitability of its source.

Before he could think and panic, Harry took a deep breath and asked as casually as his thundering heart would allow him, "Did you come here tonight to find a partner for the night?"

"That is what we are all here for, is it not?" Snape replied, seeming more on guard, as though he were anticipating ridicule. But Snape still didn't snap and tell him that it was none of his business why he was here, as would have happened years ago.

Encouraged by that small victory, Harry forced himself to hold that dark gaze as he asked, "I guess spending the night with me would be out of the question?"

The silence that followed his question felt like it were frozen in ice.

Dear God, he'd just propositioned Severus Snape. What was he thinking? Harry's brain short circuited as he realized that he'd actually given that insanity voice. He held his breath, waiting for the explosion, fully aware that he deserved whatever Snape dished out to him.

Snape merely stared at him for a long moment before hissing, "Are you attempting to be humorous?"

Feeling the blood drain from his face and his heart and breathing thud to a painful stop, Harry shook his head. "No. I meant it."

Those dark eyes were scouring his face so intently that Harry could almost believe that Snape was attempting to read his thoughts. There was still no explosion. Finally, Snape said, "You expect me to believe that you seriously wish to . . . spend the night – with me?"

"I know it's absolutely insane, but . . . yeah, I do," Harry replied, still unable to believe that he was actually having this kind of conversation with Severus Snape.

Harry withstood the resulting scrutiny, holding Snape's gaze.

"Given our less than shining history, you must understand that I have to ask you why?" Snape said into the bubble of silence that surrounded them. Three feet away, there was still music and laughter, but their table seemed isolated in its own dimension of tension.

Abruptly, Harry realized how vulnerable Snape's admission of his sexual preferences had left him. Sex was often about a lot more than getting laid. Some men used it as a weapon, others as a bargaining tool. Harry could almost touch the other man's suspicion, the fear that Harry might be planning to use this as a way to get back at Snape for all the years of humiliation he'd suffered in Snape's class. It would be easily enough done, Harry thought, recognizing that Snape would probably never sleep with him simply to forestall such a situation.

Harry tried to come up with an argument that would circumvent Snape's considerable self-preservation instincts, but he wasn't good with words. All he had was the pathetic, inadequate truth, which he didn't want to share. Only . . . he was asking a level of trust from Snape that was unprecedented between them. Surely, he could give Snape something in return, even if it were embarrassing and enough ammunition to ensure years of humiliation should Snape decide to use the information against him, which he no doubt would.

Gulping down his fear, Harry softly confessed, "You saw the way that Brate guy treated me. Every time I come in here, that's what it's like. It's gotten so I don't . . . feel anything anymore, but . . . when you told me what you liked to do in bed, that stirred something. I know you have no reason to trust my motives, but I honestly did want to . . . try. I just figured that since we were here for the same thing, why not give it a go?"

The reasons as to why not were too many to count, Harry recognized as he waited for Snape to point that very fact out to him.

But Snape didn't belabour the bloody obvious. He simply sat there watching him for what felt like eternity before saying, "My place or not at all."

Snape still looked as though he expected to be laughed at any second.

Too shocked for words, all Harry could manage was a stiff nod.

Snape stood up. Harry followed suit. As he looked up into that familiar, stark-featured face, he was once again reminded of their difference in height. He'd forgotten how damn tall Snape was.

Snape reached out and took hold of his arm. Harry felt the power draw around him, and seconds later, they were Apparating away.

The wall sconces and hearth lit as they rematerialized in the open space in the corner of a charming sitting room. There was a huge fieldstone hearth along the far wall with a long green sofa, two brown armchairs, and several dark wood tables before it. The corner opposite the one they'd Apparated into had a huge mahogany desk and chair in it. Every other wall was lined with overburdened book cases.

As Harry glanced around his surroundings, he saw that the only decoration, if it could be called that, was a single framed picture of Albus Dumbledore on the mantle. But despite the lack of knickknacks and clutter, the room was oddly warm and welcoming, nothing like what he would have imagined Snape to inhabit.

Once he'd taken in his environment, Harry turned to look at his companion. He had no clue as to how to even approach Snape now that they were alone. He couldn't believe that Snape had actually agreed to this.

Snape was watching him with that same suspicious expression.

Their gazes met, and something like a challenge sparked in those black eyes.

Harry looked up as Snape stepped into his personal space. He wasn't sure what to expect. Kisses were never a part of these kinds of encounters.

Harry groaned as Snape's yellow-tinted hand cupped him through his trousers. He'd been half-hard since Snape had confessed that he preferred not to top. He went from half-interested to raging in a heartbeat. He could tell that Snape was using the touch to check that he was genuinely interested, but Harry didn't really care why Snape was squeezing him. All that mattered was the sensations that blazed through him.

Snape obviously knew what he was doing. That long-fingered hand had precisely the right pressure, not too hard, but nothing cloying or teasing about it. Snape's touch was firm and confident, and Harry soared.

"Very impressive, Potter," Snape drawled; a little breathlessly, Harry thought.

His own breathing was embarrassingly erratic for this stage in the proceedings. Maybe it was the sheer insanity of doing this with someone who should have been off limits or perhaps it had merely been so long since Harry had experienced anything like real arousal that he didn't know how to handle it; all he knew was that his heart was racing at an alarming rate and he couldn't think.

Snape's hands moved to slip Harry's open black wizards robe from his shoulders and then moved to his waist to fumble Harry's trouser fastenings open.

Harry gasped as the cool air of the room caressed his overheated flesh. He could feel Snape's gaze on his genitals like he would another man's touch. Then Snape was sliding down to his knees and Harry lost all ability for rational cognition as his straining cock was absorbed into the wet heat of Severus Snape's mouth.

Barely able to believe what he was seeing, Harry watched that dark head bend over his groin. He reached down and flicked open the clasp holding Snape's hair, and an instant later, his lower belly was quivering as the fall of black hair brushed against it.

Snape really knew how to use his mouth; Harry had to give him that. He'd had many a blow job in his jaded past, but rarely had anyone used their tongue on him with quite the enthusiasm and artistry that Snape did. That slick tormentor found the sensitive spot on the underside of his penis and pleasured it till Harry thought his entire body would explode from the delight that rocked through him.

Snape seemed to sense exactly when the stimulation became too much, for he drew back mere seconds before Harry was ready to come.

Harry's rubbery legs gave out from under him, and he sank down onto the brown carpet, facing Snape.

Their gazes met again. To Harry's utter astonishment, Snape looked as wild with desire as Harry felt.

Dragging in short, shallow breaths like he'd just chased a suspect on foot for six miles, Harry watched as Snape shrugged his own robe off his shoulders and then undid his black trousers.

Harry didn't know if he'd ever seen skin as pale as that revealed when Snape impatiently shoved his pants and underwear down. Snape's cock was a startlingly dark contrast against his fish-belly white stomach. It was long, thick, and so red with need that it made Harry's mouth water just to look at it.

Harry couldn't help but reach for that beautiful prize. Snape grew even larger in his hand as he palmed that bright flesh and began to pump.

After several minutes, Snape abruptly pulled away from his hand.

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but before he could voice a single word of complaint, Snape pressed a small brown jar into his right hand and then shifted on the floor until he was on his hands and knees, facing away from Harry.

Harry gulped as he recalled what Snape had implied he liked back in the bar.

Shaking with the kind of need he hadn't felt since his teenage years, Harry reached out with his left hand to shove Snape's jacket and shirt tails up out of the way so he could see the man's arse.

The skin there was just as pale as his belly, whiter than fresh-fallen snow. Snape's butt had little flesh on it, and was rather flat, but it was still surprisingly attractive. Harry swallowed hard as he took in the sight, because he couldn't remember a single time that someone had offered him this so easily, with no negotiations beforehand.

Harry trembled as he worked the lid off the jar Snape had given him. He sank the fingers of his left hand into the cool, white cream. Removing a large glob of it, he warmed it in his palm and then transferred it to his right middle finger.

His hand slid into the dark mystery of the cleft between Severus' cheeks, finding the budded entrance there like a Muggle heat-seeking missile. He slicked the round bud with the lubricant, and then carefully slipped his middle finger up inside Snape.

The groan Snape released as that slender probe penetrated him slithered through Harry like a stroke to his cock.

Tight. Snape was so incredibly tight around even just his finger that it made Harry wonder if he'd even really done this before. But then he remembered how Justin had said that he'd only seen Snape leave Whispers with a partner once, and Harry realized that Snape probably didn't have sex very often.

Harry took his time. The shocked grunt Snape gave when Harry's finger flicked over his prostate rocked through him. Harry worked that secret spot, delighting in the sounds his efforts pulled from the normally restrained Snape.

When it felt like Snape had loosened up some, Harry pulled his finger out, added more of the warmed lube to it and a partner, and then carefully inserted two fingers up into Snape. Two fingers were twice as good as one, for both of them, if the cry Snape gave as Harry started to work him were anything to go by.

It took a long while before Snape was stretched enough to permit easy intercourse, but Harry didn't mind. He'd rarely had a partner who allowed him this much freedom in this particular area.

Finally, Snape felt loose enough. Which was a really good thing, because Harry was so turned on that he could barely see straight at that point.

Harry stuck his fingers back in the jar of fresh-scented cream and then quickly slathered the stuff on his cock. With a renewed sense of unreality, he positioned himself, overwhelmed by the awareness that he was about to fuck Severus Snape.

Then his cock slid past that guarding muscle, and it was all tight warmth and wild pleasure, with no room for either thought or awkwardness. Snape was an incredible, tight heat gripping every inch of him.

Snape gasped as Harry's cock slid over his prostate. Loving the sound, Harry pulled back and did it again, and again. There was no describing how incredible this felt. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd experienced pleasure this intense, had felt this welcome inside anyone. That the person giving him this unprecedented gift would be Severus Snape was inconceivable.

Bracing himself up with his left hand on Snape's hip, Harry slid his right around Snape to collect that lovely dick into his hand.

It felt just as amazing as it had before, fitting Harry's palm as though it had been designed to specification. His hips and hand finding a mutually satisfying rhythm, Harry began to thrust, pulling all the way out before reclaiming that perfect tract. Snape moved with him like they'd been doing this for years, like their bodies knew each other from the inside out. Every time Harry would push in, Snape's butt would hump backwards to meet him, and when Harry pulled out, Snape's hips would rock forward to meet Harry's moving hand on his cock.

Snape was making these tiny, pleading noises that sounded like they were being torn out of him against his will. His head was thrown back, his long black hair flowing around his pale shoulders like a black silk curtain. And he was gasping like he couldn’t catch his breath, like whatever sensations he was experiencing were beyond his ability to handle.

Never before had Harry had a partner so in tune with him. This was more an erotic dance than a fumbling first time. That Snape could be so gloriously sensual, so utterly open to the experience blew away every preconception Harry harboured about him.

All too soon, Harry felt his balls tighten as they slapped against that flat arse. Seconds later, his nerve endings exploded with pleasure as his cock convulsed deep inside Snape.

At almost the same instant, the cock in his hand gave up its load, spraying Harry's hand and Snape's belly with the generous, sticky outpouring.

The pleasure seeming to take everything he had, Harry collapsed across Snape's back. When Snape didn't fold beneath him, Harry wrapped his arms around Snape's chest. Even under three layers of bulky jacket, shirt, and undershirt, Snape's chest was still unusually slender.

Needing something more, Harry buried his face in the crook between Snape's neck and shoulder and greedily licked the sweet skin there.

Snape shuddered in reaction. The channel gripping Harry's now deflated cock constricted around him, and to Harry's utter shock, he felt himself go hard again. Not knowing what to do, he just stayed there, wrapped around Snape. Then Snape pushed back at him, giving his cock more friction, and Harry lost all control.

Straightening back up, Harry took hold of Snape's hardening shaft and started rocking his hips again for an amazing second go round.

This encounter felt no less satisfying than the first. Harry's entire body thrilled with every forward thrust. Each time Severus' channel squeezed his cock, the resulting burst of delight that howled through Harry's system was nearly transcendental. Snape seemed equally aroused by what they were doing, were the rock hard cock in Harry's moving fist any indication.

Not surprisingly, this time took longer, but the build-up was piercingly sweet. Harry tumbled over into orgasm again, sinking back down on Snape's back while the man's cock exploded in his hand.

Feeling the intimate motions of Snape's back rising and falling with each breath he took and that heart beating madly beneath his chest, Harry simply stayed frozen in that comfortable position, letting Snape hold him up.

Harry couldn't believe it when he felt Snape give him another squeeze. He wasn't sixteen anymore – hell, had he ever come like that at sixteen? – he should have been done for the night. Maybe for the week. But against all reason and previous experience, Harry hardened again.

Deciding that this night must be some weird, erotic dream, Harry straightened back up and began to thrust again, slow and lazy this time. The shaft in his hand did not get hard again, but Snape's bum moved to eagerly meet his every thrust. When Harry came this time, it was a gentle, warm completion rather than the previous bone-melting explosions. Harry couldn't even tell if he produced any semen. All he knew was that it felt sublime.

This time when Harry gave his weight to Snape, Snape crashed to the floor.

They lay there frozen on the soft, brown rug, their bodies still locked in that sticky union as they struggled for breath.

Harry sighed in regret as his perhaps forever-limp cock slipped out of Snape. He knew that he'd never have another night like this, that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As much as he'd savoured it, Harry really wished he could have prolonged it. But not even at the height of teenage randiness could he have gotten it up a fourth time in one night.

After a long moment, Snape rolled over onto his side, facing him.

A shiver passed through Harry as their gazes met. He could see the same awkwardness, the same disbelief that he was experiencing reflected in those inky black eyes.

Harry hadn't know what he'd expected when he'd gone home with Snape, but it certainly hadn't been the explosive sexual chemistry they'd found.

When he felt he could spare the breath, Harry began, "That was . . . . "

His words trailed off into embarrassed silence as he realized that he couldn't finish the sentence without sounding like a sentimental idiot.

He'd never seen Snape look the way he looked now, all warm and rumpled, hair askew, cheeks still flushed with pleasure. He couldn't take his eyes off his face.

Instead of scorning him as an utter fool, as part of Harry instinctively dreaded would happen, Snape gave a strangely inflected, "Indeed."

That horrible silence fell between them again.

Recognizing that if he didn't move now, he might just lay here for the rest of his life, Harry forced himself to sit up. Snape did the same beside him, as he'd known he would.

When Harry climbed to his feet to rearrange his clothing, Snape was right beside him.

His trousers up and fastened, Harry summoned his robe from the floor and shouldered into it. He could feel Snape's dark gaze following his every move.

This was why it was never a good idea to have one-night-stands with people he knew, Harry realized. The awkwardness afterwards was enough to kill a man.

Even Snape seemed completely thrown by what had occurred between them. In the past, an out-of-sorts Snape would have instantly translated into a shouting Snape, but he seemed more shocked than angry to Harry.

Harry could appreciate the feeling. It wasn't supposed to have been like that.

If this had been any man other than Severus Snape, Harry would have given voice to the conflicting feelings he was experiencing, would have let the other man know how much he'd moved him and asked to see him again. But . . . this was Snape. Harry knew Snape wouldn't want to hear any of that, not from him, so he left it unsaid.

Recognizing that manners required that he say something before Apparating away, Harry stumbled over, "Er, thanks. I, er, guess I'll see you around."

Something that might have been resignation flashed through Snape's eyes before it was quickly masked. His voice almost totally uninflected, Snape replied, "Doubtless."

Unable to stand the tension, Harry swallowed hard and said, "Well, good night, then."

He didn't know what he'd hoped Snape would say, but the softly voiced, "Good night, Potter," wasn't it.

With a final nod, Harry Apparated home.


Despite his best efforts to purge the memory, that night with Snape was all Harry could think about. He tried to tell himself that sex was just sex, but he'd never had sex like that in his life. His body reverberated with the fierce sensations, and, even though he was at work, the instant Snape crossed his mind, he'd go instantly hard.

Harry knew that the wisest thing he could do was to put that night firmly behind him, because if a one-night-stand with Snape could mess him up this bad, there was no telling what anything more would do. But Harry had never been wise.

What he'd been was numb and disenchanted. To learn that he could feel, that he could have such explosive chemistry with another human, was nearly more than he could handle. Numb was safe. Reality was all about disenchantment. If he didn't hope, if he didn't dream, then he couldn't be hurt.

In his saner moments, Harry knew that there was nothing he could gain by seeing Snape again. Doubtless all a second encounter would do would be to shatter the illusions he was fostering, because, for God's sake, how could he possibly have chemistry with Snape? The idea was more than insane; it was ludicrous.

Snape would no doubt laugh in his face if Harry came skulking back to his door for a second go-round. For, seriously, where could this possibly go?

Harry tried to tell himself that it was the novelty that had made that night so hot, that it was the idea of doing it with someone who should have been out of bounds that was so titillating rather than Snape himself. The man was ugly and obnoxious. Harry had known that for years . . . only, Snape hadn't seemed at all ugly when they were lying there on the floor all rumpled and flushed after sex, nor had he been all that obnoxious that night. Prickly, yes, but Snape could no more be sweet and charming than a dragon could. For Snape, he'd been damned pleasant that night.

But just because Snape had been unnaturally forbearing with him on Friday night, didn't mean Snape would want to ever see him again. They'd both needed to get laid, that was all there was to it. To make something more out of a satisfying one-night-stand was just asking for trouble. Harry knew that.

Which was why he found himself tentatively knocking on the thick wooden door of Snape's Exmoor home the next night, because he knew he'd be asking for trouble, Harry thought with a sneer as he stood there shivering in the early January freeze. Maybe he just needed Snape to laugh in his face for him to be able to get on with his life.

The door swung open. Snape's sour, irritated expression gave way to one of complete shock when he saw who it was on his doorstep, before being schooled into its usual bland set. "Potter?"

Snape wasn't wearing his robes or jacket. He was in black trousers and shirtsleeves. The rolled up arms of his white shirt revealed the dark mark on his left arm and Snape's wiry muscled forearms, which somehow struck Harry as being unbelievably sexy. It was at that point that Harry recognized how truly doomed he was.

"Er, hello," Harry stammered, having no idea what to say. Maybe it was courage that had brought him here, or perhaps desperation, but whatever it was, it deserted him completely under that dark gaze.

To Harry's shock, Snape stepped back, opening the door wide in silent invitation.

The door closed behind them and Harry followed his surprised host back to the sitting room. There was an open book on the arm of the chair closest to the hearth and a steaming mug of what looked like milky tea on the nearby end table.

As Snape turned to face him, Harry had no idea what to say, how to even begin to explain his presence here.

There was something in Snape's guarded expression that made Harry suspect that Snape was undergoing a similar crisis. But neither of them spoke of it.

Harry wasn't sure who moved first. The next thing he knew, Snape's hands were pulling his dark blue jumper up to get at the button of his blue jeans, and Harry's own hands were scrambling to undo Snape's trousers.

His entire being seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as he was bared to the warm air of the sitting room.

Snape's cock was just as magnificent as he remembered, big and dark and hungry. Somehow it seemed even more erotic when viewed around the open trousers and pushed-up shirt end. Harry palmed Snape's moist shaft as Snape's yellow-stained fingers took possession of his own.

Once again, the pressure felt perfect. Snape squeezed him like he knew him from the inside out.

Harry returned the favour. The surprised sounding gasp Snape gave made him think that his efforts were equally effective. Wanting to hear that sound again, Harry stood up on tiptoes and latched his mouth onto that long, pale throat. A man as thin as Snape should have had a scrawny neck, but, although slender, Snape's throat was graceful and well formed.

Snape made a small, startled-sounding cry as Harry began to suck the soft skin below his ear. Clearly, the man was ultra-sensitive there. Harry nuzzled his way over to the pronounced Adam's apple, leaving a trail of little, red marks in his wake.

All the while, their hands were working each other's shafts, escalating the pleasure.

As the heat and the passion built to unbearable levels, they staggered backwards until they came up against Snape's huge desk.

Harry blinked as that small brown jar of cream he remembered from last night nudged his ear. When he took his hands off Snape long enough to fish the jar out of the air where it was floating, Snape turned and quickly pushed everything off the top of his desk to the floor.

Startled by the sound of breaking glass, Harry looked down at the mess of fallen parchments, books, and vials that had crashed on the brown rug on the far side of the desk, but then Snape was bending over the desk's gleaming, polished mahogany surface and Harry lost awareness of everything but that splendid arse on offer. The black pants and shirttails were concealing most of it, though. He pushed the shirt up, barely taking in the scarred lower back, then tugged Snape's trousers downwards until they pooled at his ankles.

Harry stroked the creamy skin of those flattish cheeks, loving how they felt under his palms. Gently grasping them, he gave a careful squeeze that drew a piercing moan out of Snape.

Harry grabbed hold of the lube and fumbled it open. Snape was just as perfectly tight as he recalled him being last night. Seeing that long body bent over the desk with trousers tangled at his feet, hearing the amazing sounds Snape made as his fingers breached and explored him . . . Harry had never known anything this wildly erotic.

Though the want was so bad that his heart was pounding in a deafening beat and he could barely breathe, Harry took his time convincing that tight channel to loosen up enough to accept him. He knew how rare a gift this was, how unheard of it was for a wizard to open himself up to another this completely. That Snape could give him this kind of surrender was mind-boggling, and Harry had no intention of taking it for granted or hurting Snape in his over-eager rush to completion.

Finally, Severus felt receptive. Harry slathered a generous helping on his own cock, carefully positioned himself, and slid home. That was what it felt like, coming home. No one had welcomed him like this. There had never been a body that moved so in sync with his own or seemed to complement his needs so well.

His hand slipped around Severus to appropriate his cock, giving the hungry length the attention it was crying for.

Harry had thought last night a fluke born of the novelty of fucking his nasty potions teacher. Tonight taught him different.

Snape was every wild dream he'd ever had. They moved together like they'd been born for this union, like their entire lives had been lived simply to bring them to this place of perfect harmony.

Harry moved cautiously in and out of Snape. Snape was keeping his butt up high in the air, leaving a safe space between his groin and the hard desk edge, but Harry knew how easily a careless move on his end could send Snape crashing into that ungiving surface. So he kept hold of Snape's hip with his left hand, making sure he didn't thrust hard enough to throw them off balance.

Even as he monitored himself, Harry could feel his brain liquefying under the sheer brilliance of the delight coursing through him. He was beyond lost. Harry felt like his whole world was exploding around him as he came deep inside Snape.

Seconds later, the shaft in his hand convulsed and Snape's gleaming desk was splattered with spurt after spurt of semen. Snape came so hard that it seemed to Harry as if the man ejaculated a year's worth of cum.

Harry sank against Snape, burying his face in that dark hair, nosing through it until he got to the soft, vulnerable nape of Snape's neck. He licked the skin there, feeling Snape shudder in reaction.

A moment later, Snape squeezed him, and Harry felt himself grow hard again.

This round wasn't nearly as wild as last night's second coupling, but Harry rather enjoyed the slower, easy pace. That, too, was something with which he was unfamiliar. His one-night-stands were always rushed and furtive. He'd never met a wizard who luxuriated in being taken the way Snape seemed to, and that was just so not in keeping with what Harry thought he knew of Snape's character that it was difficult to see this passionate lover as the nemesis of his youth.

This climax was a warm, tingling affair rather than the earth-shatteringly erotic one he'd experienced before. Snape barely seemed to produce any semen at all this time, but that was okay. The sounds he made more than demonstrated how much he was enjoying himself.

Orgasm claiming the last of his energy, Harry collapsed onto Snape. He lay there breathing in Snape's warm scent and the more tantalizing musk of sex until Snape gave a tentative push up at him.

Realizing that Snape must be having trouble breathing bent over the desk like that with his weight on his back, Harry quickly stumbled up. He bent to pull up his blue jeans, even as Snape was turning to fish his trousers up from around his ankles.

Once again, Harry hadn't a fucking clue as to what he should say. There wasn't an etiquette manual on the planet that included post-coital conversation with someone you were fairly certain you hated.

Only, Harry didn't hate Snape. Not now. What they shared had nothing to do with anger or revenge or the millions of other unpleasant factors that could have coloured the sex between them. He wasn't sure what it did have to do with; all he knew was that it wasn't hate.

Snape was watching him. Those normally sallow cheeks were still pleasantly flushed, his expression mild and only a little guarded.

"I didn't expect to see you again," Snape said into the silence.

Harry nodded. "I know. It doesn't make a bit of sense, but . . . it's good between us, isn't it?"

Harry braced himself for all manner of rejection.

Snape seemed taken aback by his candidness. After a long pause, he gave a totally wary, "Yes," watching him as though he expected ridicule.

Okay, Harry thought to himself, they were both obviously freaked out by this, but both . . . interested, in spite of themselves. Taking a deep breath, Harry admitted, "I didn't know if you would want to see me again so soon – or at all."

Snape nodded. "I, too, thought the possibility of another such . . . night, unlikely."

"Looks like we were both wrong," Harry said.

"Indeed," Snape answered. He'd been standing straight and stiff as a prisoner facing an execution squad, but at Harry's words, Snape relaxed, leaning his butt back against the semen-splattered desk. He looked more human than Harry had ever seen him before, more approachable.

"Do you think . . . I mean, would you be willing . . . ?" Harry faltered, having no idea how to phrase the question he wanted to ask.

Snape held his gaze and said in a low, tentative tone that clearly revealed his nervousness, "If you were to find yourself at loose ends, you would not be unwelcome here, Potter. I'm home most nights."

Harry couldn't help the grin that claimed his face. "Thanks. That's . . . splendid. I look forward to seeing you again."

"When you're at loose ends," Snape answered.

"Yes, when I'm at loose ends," Harry said, still grinning like an idiot. "Till then, take care."

Snape nodded. "Good night, then."

"Good night," Harry replied, Apparating home with a strange sensation of butterflies in his stomach that had nothing to do with his mode of transportation.


Harry found himself at loose ends the next five nights straight. Remarkably, Snape made no protest about his taking advantage of the unexpected offer. During that time, they made it on every possible surface in the sitting room, and a couple that should have been impossible.

But when Friday morning dawned, Harry found himself in the grips of an unexpected dilemma. The sex was fantastic, like nothing he'd ever known, but . . . the minute they were alone together, they ended up all over each other. As wonderful as that was, Harry really wanted to learn a little bit more about the man he was fucking. With the way things were now between them, he didn't even know if Snape were working freelance or were employed by one of the larger research companies.

So, early Friday morning before he left for work, Harry firecalled Snape. "Severus?"

They spoke so infrequently that the name still felt strange on Harry's lips. As he manifested in Snape's hearth, Harry looked out at the familiar sitting room. Snape was nowhere to be seen.

Harry was just about to give up when a door at the far end of the room that he supposed was Snape's bedroom opened and Snape strode quickly to the hearth. He wasn't fully dressed yet.

Long and lean, hair still damp from the bath, Snape was an oddly sensual sight. Harry's gut clenched when he saw Snape buttoning his white shirt over a crisp white undershirt. Since when was watching someone get dressed sexy?

"Potter?" Snape sounded curious rather than annoyed.

"Hi." Words left his brain as he stared at Snape. He'd never understood the phrase 'dumbstruck' before, but that was definitely the only definition for what he was experiencing as he gaped at Snape's unexpectedly sensual appearance. "Sorry to disturb you so early, but, I, er, was wondering if you had plans tonight?" Harry stammered out before his courage could desert him.

He'd startled Snape again, although Harry could tell that the other man was trying very hard not to show it.

"No, I haven't any plans. Why do you ask? You don't usually . . . ." Snape's words trailed away, as though, he, too, didn't know how to address what they did together at night.

"I know. I just . . . the minute we're together, we always end up . . . in a clinch, and I just thought it'd be nice to see you before we, er . . . well, I was wondering if you'd like to join me for dinner? There's this restaurant called Alfonso's on the corner of Diagon Alley and Widdershins Place that's fantastic. What do you think?" Harry hoped that Severus had been able to understand what he'd said; the words came out in such a nervous rush. He felt like he was fourteen again and inviting Cho to the Yule Ball.

Snape wasn't even attempting to conceal his shock. "You wish to be seen in public with me?"

That wasn't the response he was anticipating. Harry was pretty certain at this point that Snape wouldn't scorn him for asking a question that would have been utterly unthinkable a week ago. He didn't know if Snape wanted to have anything to do with him that didn't involve sex, and he wouldn't have been surprised by a rejection to his dinner invitation, but he didn't understand the 'being seen in public' comment. What it indicated about Severus' previous relationships was fairly disturbing.

Harry met those dark eyes. He could almost feel how hard Snape was working at holding back his suspicion, how carefully he was schooling his features.

Hoping he wasn't about to ruin everything, Harry softly admitted, "I, er, would like to see more of you . . . if that's agreeable to you. We both have to eat, so I figured we might as well do it together. But if the idea makes you uncomfortable, we don't have to. We can just – "

"No, it doesn't make me uncomfortable and, as you say, we both have to eat," Snape answered, his shock still an almost palpable presence.

Hoping to ease Snape's nervousness, Harry smiled. "Fantastic. Does seven work for you? We could meet out in front, if you know where the restaurant is. If not, I could meet you here and we – "

"No, I know where Alfonso's is," Snape answered. "Seven o'clock is fine."

"Good. I'll see you at seven, then," Harry said, still unable to believe that Snape had agreed without an argument.

"Potter?" Snape called as Harry was about to pull back into his own hearth.

"Yes?" he asked, hoping Snape hadn't changed his mind.

For a moment, it seemed as though Snape had forgotten what he was about to say, or perhaps reconsidered whatever he'd planned, but then he seemed to force himself to say, "Thank you."

Confused by the grave tone Snape gave those two words, Harry gave a shy smile and said, "Believe me, the pleasure's all mine. I'll see you at seven."

Because Severus still had a shell-shocked look about him, Harry reached out and gave his arm an encouraging squeeze. What he really wanted to do was kiss that uncertainty away, but he didn't know how Severus would feel about that and didn't want to push things too far. Giving Severus another smile, Harry reluctantly pulled back to his own place and hurried to meet the day.


At exactly seven pm, Severus Apparated to the front of Alfonso's.

Harry, who'd been waiting on the busy, sleet-battered street since a quarter of, relaxed the instant that sombre, black-garbed figure appeared.

"Hello," Harry said, reaching out to touch Severus' arm.

"Potter," Snape replied with a guarded nod. He seemed nervous.

Harry could sympathize. He'd been debating the wisdom of this all day. The sexual chemistry they'd discovered was incredible. He didn't want to do anything to destroy it, and he knew that all it would take would be one of their old rows. But he still wanted to try to get to know this man who brought him such pleasure every night.

"Thanks for coming. I took the liberty of reserving us a table," Harry said, falling into step beside Snape as they moved towards the entrance.

"Harry!" the restaurant's portly, balding owner, Alfonso, exclaimed as they stepped in out of the foul weather.

"Hi, Al," Harry grinned, his stomach growling as he caught a whiff of the delectable, garlic-scented aromas filling the room. This was Harry's favourite London restaurant. The food was beyond compare, and the ambiance pleasantly hokey. Harry loved the human-faced, animated tomatoes painted on the ivory walls and the real grapevines dangling from latticework overhead.

"So good to see you again. And you've brought a guest tonight!" Alfonso's round face lit with delight.

"This is my friend, Severus Snape. Severus, this is Alfonso. He makes the best chicken Parmesan on Earth," Harry said.

"Harry is too kind," Alfonso denied. "My mother made the best chicken Parmesania; bless her soul. I make the second best. If you'll come this way, please."

Alfonso led them to the table Harry had requested, the one right in front of the blazing fireplace. There was a fresh cut rosebud in a small vase on the red and white chequered tablecloth and a merrily dancing votive candle in a crystal holder. The heat of the nearby fireplace quickly dispelled the chill of the sleety night.

Once they were seated, Alfonso gave them their menus and said, "Maria will be by in a moment to take your drinks order. If there's anything you need that's not on the menu, just let me know."

"Thank you, Al," Harry said as the rotund wizard made his way to the kitchen.

Harry looked over to his companion. Severus was gazing curiously around the crowded restaurant. He was dressed in his usual black robes, jacket, and suit, with his long black hair contained in a neat ponytail. Harry couldn't pick out a single thing about Severus that was different from the way he'd appeared in Whispers last Friday. Severus was just as sombre, with that unmistakable air of menace and danger that had always clung to Snape. But for some reason when Harry looked at Severus tonight, none of the usual adjectives passed through his mind. Perhaps it was merely an effect of the flickering candle and firelight, but words like sensual, striking, and mysterious were crowding out the usual insults.

"You come here often, I take it," Severus said when he'd finished taking in his surroundings.

Harry nodded. "Yes. It's one of the few places I feel comfortable. Do you like it?"

"I'll withhold judgment until the food arrives," Severus replied.

Harry chuckled.

"Speaking of food, what would you recommend?" Severus asked.

Alfonso's youngest daughter, the dark-haired, lovely Maria, arrived with a bread basket and took their drink orders. The next ten minutes passed in a pleasant discussion of the menu. Once their dinner choices were passed on to the kitchen, silence fell between them.

"Er, I was wondering what sort of medicinal potions you've been working on?" Harry asked.

Severus appeared startled. After a brief pause, he answered, "I've been researching a tumour reduction potion for the last six months. Before that I was working on a cure for pneumonia. That was my most recent patent."

"Are you working freelance or at one of the research labs?" Harry questioned.

"I'm associated with Greymoore Labs," Snape named the most prestigious and lucrative potion making company in the Wizarding World, "but I do my research in a private lab in my basement."

Harry hadn't really given it much consideration, but he realized now that Snape's house was large enough for him to have a considerable lab in the cellar.

"You mustn't see anyone from one end of the week to the next, in that case. It sounds lonely," Harry couldn't stop himself from commenting.

"I found the solitude comforting after the trials," Snape said.

Harry was very conscious of the verb tense Severus used. Found, not find. For all that he could tell, with the exception of his rare trips to Whispers, Snape lived totally alone in his house with his potions and his books. Even for the most determined curmudgeon, the isolation had to be hard.

Their meals arrived then, interrupting the awkward pause.

Severus had followed his example and ordered Harry's favourite, chicken Parmesan. Harry had to smile at Severus' expression as Maria put the fragrant plate down in front of him. He could tell that Severus was trying to look unimpressed, but the steaming, cheese and tomato sauce covered chicken was hard to resist.

The silence lost its tension as they began to eat. They'd slowed down to something approaching mere ravenous when Severus looked across the table at him and softly stated, "I appreciate the effort you're making tonight, but I'm afraid I'm not very good at socializing, Potter."

Harry considered the dozens of possible responses. The most tempting was a denial, but they were both too conscious of the strained silences between them tonight for Harry to even pretend ignorance. Deciding that honesty was probably his best bet, Harry replied in an equally subdued tone, "You don't have to be social. I just wanted to spend some time with you that didn't involve – what we've been doing this last week, not that there's anything wrong with what we've been doing. Are you enjoying yourself or is this a tremendous trial?"

Harry was genuinely curious, because he couldn't tell for sure from Severus' expression exactly how the other man felt about their date.

Severus' dark gaze moved around the romantically lit restaurant, coming to rest on Harry. "This evening has been . . . surprisingly enjoyable."

"Then what's the problem?" Harry asked.

"I realize that my company is . . . less than scintillating," Severus said. "Surely, you would be more comfortable with someone your own age who would – "

"Fawn over me, sleep with me because of my headlines, and then leave disenchanted because I failed to live up to their fantasy?" Harry broke in, letting Severus see how much the typical reaction to the media hype bothered him. "You haven't heard me complain, have you?"

"No, I don't understand it, but you've been surprisingly . . . forbearing," Severus answered.

"There's been nothing to be forbearing about," Harry insisted. "I know who you are. I wasn't expecting you to grow a whole new personality for my amusement. We're not shouting or being horrible to each other. That's all that counts."

Severus' brow rose almost to his hairline. A heartbeat later, his dark gaze lowered to his mostly empty plate. "I don’t understand what you want from me, aside from . . . what we've been doing lately. That I understand. This is . . . confusing."

Harry gulped as that surprisingly open gaze met his own again. After the amazing sex they'd had, how could Severus be confused by his wanting to get to know him better? Had no one ever dated Snape or courted him? Had his life always been nothing but work and anonymous sex?

Harry abruptly recalled the odd significance Severus had placed on his thank you this morning. In retrospect, it really did seem as though Severus had been overwhelmed at being asked out, unnaturally so. But despite the obvious, stressful novelty of the experience and his natural suspicion of anyone making friendly overtures to him, Snape had still found the courage to come, so their seeing each other socially had to mean something to him, too.

Harry swallowed hard. "I guess I want to get to know the man you are now. He seems very different from the Severus Snape I remember."

Snape took a sip of his wine and answered, "That isn't necessary for what we do together."

"Maybe not, but you asked what I wanted," Harry reminded.

"May I ask why you'd be interested in . . . such a learning experience?" Snape questioned.

Harry was shocked to realize that Severus was serious. After the sex they'd had this week, Harry had thought the answer to Snape's question would be self-explanatory, but maybe Severus wasn't accustomed to anyone wanting more than sex from him.

Staring into those bottomless black eyes, which were watching him as if waiting for a lie, Harry knew he couldn't say his interest was born of the sex. He had a strong feeling that sex was all anyone had wanted from Severus over the years. While it might be true that the passion they'd found was a great motivator for his wanting to get to know Snape, it wasn't the entire truth. So he offered something more personal, something Severus could use against him, were he so inclined.

"Because I'm not unfamiliar with loneliness myself, and for the last week, I've felt . . . less alone," Harry admitted, wondering if he were making a mistake. It just felt wrong to confess to any type of weakness before Snape.

But Snape didn't rip into him. Instead, Severus shifted in his seat and glanced down at the candle between their two plates. Finally, he voiced a low, uncertain, "Because of me?"

Harry nodded, his throat tightening up. He knew being this blunt with another man could easily lead to the end of whatever type of relationship they'd had. Most gay wizards ran from the idea of emotional attachment and commitment the way Muggles would from a prospective lover announcing he had a fatal STD. Harry knew the score. He realized he was violating rule number one here by being so honest about the effect Severus had had on his life.

But Severus was so far outside the norm that he didn't appear to notice the unforgivable faux pas Harry had committed. Instead of running or mocking Harry for his childish candidness, both of which Harry would have fully understood, Severus said in a quiet tone, "I'm not . . . accustomed to any of this. Be warned, Potter, this could be a disaster in the making."

Taking courage in the fact that Severus was warning rather than berating him, Harry said, "I'll take my chances. You've been fantastic so far."

The compliment was obviously a surprise. Seeming far more relaxed, Severus gave a snort and a self-deprecating, "I've been totally out of my depth, as we both well know."

"If it's any consolation, I'm not used to dating anymore, either," Harry offered.

"Dating – " Snape's head snapped up. He looked like the word had ambushed him.

"Well, I don't know what else to call it. I realize we're doing things a little backwards, starting where other people end up, but if it's enjoyable to us both, what difference does it make?" Harry asked, trying to keep things light.

Perhaps his bluntness panicked Severus, for he became very prickly as he insisted, "I don't date, Potter. The very idea is ludicrous."


"Why – what?" Severus snapped. "Why I don't date or why the idea is preposterous?"

"Both, I guess," Harry answered.

"Have you suffered a head injury of which I'm unaware?" Snape demanded. "That is the only explanation I can conceive of for your current attitude."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry kept a tight hold of his temper.

"It means that you, of all people, know who and what I am."

Before last week, Harry would have never needed to question why Snape didn't date. Recalling his reaction to what Justin had told him in the club, his shock that Snape would be able to find someone to have sex with at all, he felt abruptly ashamed.

But this wasn't about him. This was about Severus. Trying to understand just what he was dealing with here, Harry softly questioned, "So you don't date at all – ever?"

"Never," Severus stiffly replied.

"Is this a new development or – "

"Must you really ask that question? Do I strike you as having been any more popular in my youth than I am in middle age? What man in his right mind would want to date someone with my cantankerous personality and, shall we say, less than stunning appearance?" Snape sneered the word 'date' out like it was an obscenity.

Harry felt his heart twist in a sympathy that he knew Severus would despise. His own relationship problems could all be traced back to his celebrity status, but what must it be like for someone like Snape, who was considered loathsome by most? How must it feel to know that you were that . . . undesirable?

Harry took a deep breath, caught Severus' angry glare and answered, "I can't vouch for my soundness of mind, but I would."

"You would what?" Severus didn't quite snarl.

"Like to date you, if you were willing. Tonight hasn't been so bad, has it?" Harry asked.

Severus was regarding him as if he'd taken complete leave of his senses, which perhaps he had. The fact that they were here at all, together on a date, was insane to start with.

After a long moment of watching his face, the peevish, pinched look left Severus' candlelit features. Seeming utterly thrown, Severus gave a negative shake of his head.

"Don't look so shocked," Harry said. "We've already established that I'm suffering a head injury of unknown severity."

Severus didn't respond to his attempt to lighten the moment. "The shock is unavoidable. I suppose that I just never considered that anyone would find my company . . . enjoyable."

Severus' ruthless self-honesty was staggering. Harry hardly knew how to respond to it.

"Well, I certainly never thought I would," Harry answered at last.

To his delight, the ends of Severus' lips twisted upwards in a shy, appealing smile before his face smoothed into its usual bland expression.

Something seemed to pass between them as they stared at each other in the ensuing pause in the conversation. It was like what happened at night. They didn't say anything, because there simply weren't enough words in the dictionary to encompass the bizarre situation they found themselves in. Yet, there was some kind of communication going on all the same.

Harry could almost feel how painful the effort Severus was making to be sociable was when he remarked, "Do you enjoy your work as an Auror?"

That was all the opening Harry needed. He mightn't be any less freaked out than Severus was, but due to his celebrity status, he'd had a lot more experience in answering questions when off balance. Severus' forced foray into small talk gave him conversational fodder for the remainder of the meal.

By the time their coffee and dessert had arrived, Severus appeared almost relaxed. To Harry's surprise, the other man had actually seemed to enjoy listening to him talk. But then, if a person were alone as much as Severus was, any voice other than his own was probably a novelty.

Damn, but the man was sexy, Harry thought, surreptitiously studying those striking features. He didn't know what it was about Severus that made him suddenly realize that. Severus was still dressed as conservatively as a monk, cloaked in black from chin to toe. Severus' attitude wasn't the least bit suggestive or flirtatious. He was as buttoned up and repressed as ever, only . . . tonight Harry could feel an almost magnetic pull to him.

As Harry took in that long form, he wondered if the sensual air he was picking up had been there all along and he'd simply failed to notice it or if it were a new development, perhaps related to him. He hoped it were the latter, because he really wanted to try to make Severus happy. He was beginning to realize that no one else had ever bothered about Severus.

The man had never dated. He knew, without needing to ask, that Snape had no friends. Harry could hardly wrap his mind around a life that lonely.

Well, that was going to change. Sitting there, watching Severus eat the last of his tiramisu while that dark gaze roamed the restaurant, taking everything in as though he were memorizing it in case he never experienced something like this again, Harry was resolved to introduce Severus to some of the joys he'd missed out on.

His fingers ached to undo Severus' ponytail and send all that long black hair spilling over his shoulders.

Their gazes met and held. Harry felt as if he were falling into those bottomless, inky depths, drowning in desire. Recognizing a similar heat in Severus' eyes, Harry started in his chair.

Alfonso's was not the place to end up locked in a clinch. He knew how reserved Severus was. That kind of public display would only embarrass him, even if Severus were as caught up in the heat of the moment as he was.

Seeing Maria enter the dining room, Harry caught her eye and gestured for the bill.

Severus reached for the bill when Maria brought it over, but Harry beat him to it. "This one's mine. You can pay next time."

"Next time?" Severus questioned.

Harry raised his brow, holding Severus' gaze until his companion flushed and looked away.

"Thank you, Maria. And please extend our gratitude to your father. The chicken Parmesan was as wonderful as ever," Harry said as he put a bunch of galleons down on the tray she held. Harry knew that two would have been more than sufficient for the meal, but food that perfect deserved proper acknowledgment.

Side by side, they left the restaurant.

Wincing as the sleet blasted them, Harry took Severus' arm outside the door. A heartbeat later, they'd rematerialized in Severus' sitting room.

After the assault of cold and stinging sleet, the room felt wonderfully warm and welcoming. Harry sighed in relief.

Severus' hand was still on his arm. Harry glanced up into Severus' face and didn't look away. For a week now, he'd been hungering to kiss Severus, resisting the urge because he wasn't sure Snape wanted anything that intimate between them. Most of the men Harry slept with didn't care to kiss. But Severus' lack of resistance to his overtures tonight made Harry bold.

Holding that dark, beautiful gaze, Harry reached up, cupped the back of Severus' head and gently guided him downwards.

Severus' eyes widened in surprise, but he didn't pull back.

Recognizing that a disaster was about to occur if he didn't move fast, Harry quickly turned his face to the side, avoiding the painful smash of noses by mere seconds.

Their lips brushed. Severus' were thin and dry, but they didn't resist as Harry's mouth covered them. For a moment, it was as awkward as everything between them was. But then Severus seemed to melt against him and Harry knew that everything would be all right.

Severus' mouth opened to him at the first swipe of his tongue. Severus tasted of the sweet dark espresso that had finished up their meal, tiramisu, and something dark and compelling that was particular to Severus. Harry drank deep of that sweet fountain.

A sense of triumph flashed through Harry when he felt Severus' fingers card through his hair, urging him closer.

As they kissed, Harry eased Severus' wizards robe off his shoulders. Pleased, he felt Severus do the same with his own.

When the need for oxygen forced them apart long minutes later, Severus appeared charmingly flushed.

"Is that the bedroom over there?" Harry asked in a breathless whisper as they gulped in air.

Severus nodded.

"Can we move in there and get more comfortable?" Harry requested, wondering if he were intruding on Severus' privacy too much. For the last week, they'd never left the sitting room. For all Harry knew, Severus might want to confine their activities to one room.

But Severus gave another ready nod and guided Harry towards the closed door.

The bedroom was just as comfortable as the sitting room. The green-canopied, four-poster bed was enormous, but then, Severus was an extremely tall man.

There was another smaller hearth in here, which sprung to life the moment they entered the room. The two nightstands flanking the bed were buried under piles of books, all three of the remaining walls lined with bookcases.

"Are there bookcases in the loo, too?" Harry couldn't help but joke. It was strange, but it was only now that he realized he'd never even used the bathroom here. He'd just had sex with Severus and left.

"The humidity would hardly be conducive to preserving the books, but . . . there is a small periodical rack in there. Would you care to see it?" Severus asked in what Harry shockingly recognized as a playful tone.

"Maybe later," Harry replied, unable to believe how turned on he was by this hidden side of Snape. He reached out and started undoing the buttons on Severus' jacket.

That was another thing he wanted to change tonight. Although they'd opened each other's shirts, normally things moved so fast that their clothes remained on, if wantonly undone. Harry wanted to take his time tonight, to explore every inch of Severus in the comfort of a bed rather than the rushed couplings over furniture that had been happening all week.

Harry could feel the tension in the long body he was caressing increase as he peeled layer after layer of clothing away, but Severus made no move to halt him. Finally down to Severus' crisp white undershirt and trousers, Harry eagerly reached for the fastening on the trousers. To his delight, Severus' fingers moved to fiddle with the button of his own black trousers.

Harry bent to assist in the removal when Severus tugged his blue jumper and white undershirt upwards. He didn't miss the pause Severus gave before doing the same when Harry pulled his companion's undershirt up. As Severus bent to take it off and the white cotton material snaked up his slender torso, Harry got his first good look at Severus' back, which was criss-crossed with scars that could only have been made by a whip. He'd felt those marks and caught glimpses of one or two of them over the last week, but this was the first time Harry had openly viewed them, without a shirt covering most of them.

Harry's stomach lurched in horror as he took in the extent of the scarring. Those gruesome pink lines seemed to cover every inch of Severus' back.

There was something like uncertainty in Severus' gaze as it met his own when he straightened back up. "Voldemort was not a very forgiving master."

If he hadn't already killed the fiend once, Harry would have done it for this. Gulping back his horror, he did everything he could to keep his reaction off his face as he softly asked, "He did this to you during the first or second war?"

"The second," Severus replied, still watching him as if he expected him to balk. "His sanity was . . . questionable then. I suppose my own was as well."

So, this had been done to Severus when Harry had been his student. Harry wasn't foolish enough to believe that these scars had nothing to do with himself. He knew that Voldemort had lived to destroy him back then. Having a minion so close to his enemy who somehow constantly failed to destroy or bring that enemy into his clutches must have made Voldemort irate. Dumbledore had always told him that Snape had made great personal sacrifices for their cause that made his loyalty to the Order unquestionable, but it was only now that Harry began to appreciate just what his old headmaster had been speaking of.

But how could Dumbledore have asked this of Snape? For that matter, Harry thought, how could Dumbledore have required Snape to publicly murder him with an Unforgivable, an act that was bound to have landed Snape life in Azkaban? It was only his own intervention that had kept Snape out of prison. Over the years, Harry had been forced to re-evaluate Albus Dumbledore's motives for much of what the old man had done and he'd come to terms with most of it, but this . . . this seemed unpardonable. Harry didn't think he'd ever be able to send one of the men he commanded into a situation where he knew his operative would be tortured, no matter what was at stake.

Looking at those ghastly scars, Harry felt ashamed for all the years he'd doubted and hated this man. Granted, Snape's attitude had inspired most of that distrust and enmity, but all Harry could see now was what Severus had suffered for their cause.

"We were all a bit mental back then," Harry said, instinct telling him that making any kind of fuss over these horrible tokens of torture would be a mistake. "How could we not be?"

Then Harry reached out and drew the half-dressed man into his arms. He'd intended to kiss Severus to try to get them past the awkward situation, but Harry found himself hugging Severus instead. He waited for Severus to pull back in revulsion at the grossly sentimental gesture, but after a moment of shocked tension, Severus' arms tightened around Harry and he buried his face in Harry's bare shoulder.

Shocked himself by Severus' acceptance, Harry stood still for a long moment before daring to relax. He ran a flat palm over the indented, scarred back. The presence of those scars told him that Severus had never sought treatment for them, but had let them heal naturally, without magic. Harry had to wonder if Severus had ever even told Dumbledore what he'd suffered for their cause. In some ways, Harry hoped that he hadn't, because infantile as it was, he would still like to think well of their beloved leader, for all that his childish, blind loyalty to the man had faded over time.

They stood locked in that oddly comforting embrace for a long, pleasant time, with Harry just stroking Severus' back as the taller man clung to him.

Harry tried to give name to the warm, protective feeling that welled up inside him, but he'd never felt anything like it before. All he knew was that he really enjoyed holding Severus this way.

Finally, the quality of the embrace seemed to change. Severus' hands began to move over Harry's bare back in caresses that were more arousing than comforting.

Harry turned his head to nuzzle the tender skin behind Severus' left ear, raising his hand to undo the leather string holding Severus' hair back. His face was buried in the resulting silken cascade. He stayed that way, breathing in Severus' scent, letting the heat and humidity surround him.

Severus turned his head and the warm, heavy curtain veiling Harry's face shifted. Cool air replaced the sensuous blanket of Severus' hair on Harry's cheek and, to Harry's delight, a moment later, Severus' mouth found his.

This kiss was slow and deep and as warm as the hug had been. Harry felt Severus' fingers carding through his messy hair, no doubt creating even more disorder.

When they parted for air, Harry stepped back and undid his trouser zipper, quickly shucking them and his boots and socks off. When he looked back to Severus, that dark gaze was fixed upon his nude form.

Harry glanced down, wondering what Severus found so engrossing. His years on the amateur Quidditch league had left him trim and fit, but he was still barely of average height. He always felt like a shrimp when he got naked with another man, and Severus' slender length wasn't helping that any, but something in Severus' eyes made him feel less self-conscious.

"You now," Harry gently prodded when it seemed Severus would simply stand there staring at him all night.

Severus slowly undid his trousers, slipping them down the endless length of his nearly hairless legs. They tangled at his shoes, the resulting struggle taking a few minutes to sort out. When Severus straightened back up, there was no mistaking the trepidation in his eyes.

Their bodies were very different. Aside from the similar equipment, they were nearly complete opposites. Harry's own body was compact and downed with soft body hair, while Severus' long, lean form was nearly flawless in its smoothness. Severus had a dark patch of springy curls at the base of his cock, and a hint of hair peeking out at his underarms, but other than that, he was all pale perfection. Well, aside from the scars on his back and the dark mark on his left forearm, Harry mentally amended. He knew that Severus was sensitive about both of those, and could almost feel how difficult it was for Severus to stand naked before him.

Recognizing that he needed to smooth things over, Harry gave a soft smile and an appreciative, "Look at you. I might never let you put on another piece of clothing again."

Severus appeared to rally enough to give a silky, "Indeed."

"Yeah, indeed," Harry said, chuckling as he stepped closer. His hands made contact with that lush skin and his laughter died.

It was inconvenient to have to stand on tiptoes to initiate a kiss, but Harry barely minded as he did so this time. His naked front brushed Severus', and then they were pressed together. They mightn't have been an exact match, what with Harry's own erection pressing into Severus' thigh, and Severus' poking his stomach, but all that hot skin felt incredible.

Harry shuffled them back towards that huge bed. Severus moved smoothly, seeming willing to follow wherever Harry led.

A minute later, Harry found himself nestled on top of Severus, their groins happily crushed together. The resulting kiss was even better than the last.

Harry moved his lips from Severus' mouth to his neck, commencing the nuzzling kisses that he'd learned destroyed Severus' restraints. It was no different tonight. All resistance seemed to leave Severus as the long body beneath Harry shuddered in reaction.

But things were a little different tonight. They were naked in a luxurious bed. Rather than falling into that familiar, passionate rush to completion, Harry took his time, learning Severus by taste inch by slow inch.

Severus' hands and mouth latched onto any part of Harry that came in range, but for the most part, he seemed overwhelmed by Harry's gentle attentions.

When Harry's mouth closed on a tender pink nipple, Severus gave a startled gasp that turned into a whimper as Harry commenced sucking. Loving how Severus shook beneath him at his every move, Harry took his time, dismantling Severus' nervous system with every gentle touch and caress he could think of.

The barely convex slope that was Severus' pale, tender belly seemed especially vulnerable to sensation, and those nearly hairless inner thighs became one of Harry's favourite playgrounds. His tongue and lips learned them all, claiming every inch of Severus as his own.

That was how it felt, like he was marking Severus as his. His mouth never left a single hickey or bruise – there was no way he was going to despoil all that beautiful pale flesh with adolescent territory marking, but it still felt like Severus ceded ownership of every single cell to him.

That was what it was, Harry recognized. For the last week, they'd gone at it like dogs in heat. Severus had let him take him as often as he pleased, but there had always been barriers. Severus had always held a part of himself back, guarding himself. But tonight all those walls were gone, and he was touching a part of Severus that he suspected no other man had gotten close to or even seen a glimpse of.

This Severus didn't fight to remain silent, didn't hold himself apart from the loving. He moaned and sighed in glorious abandon as Harry worshipped the body so generously offered to him.

When Harry's mouth closed around that needy shaft, Severus' entire body seemed to convulse in reaction. Harry had never had a lover who actually writhed under his attentions, but there was no mistaking Severus' tossing as anything but.

For the past week, they'd sucked each other only long enough to get hard enough to proceed to the next level of fucking, but even though Severus attempted to push his head away so that they could fall back into those familiar patterns, Harry hung on. Playing dirty, he flicked his tongue against that ultra-sensitive spot on the underside of Severus' cock. All the fight seemed to go out of Severus then as he cried out under the resulting sensation.

Another minute or two, and Harry felt the velvety balls in his right palm draw up tight to Severus' body. Severus stilled, and then that jaw-breakingly thick cock was spurting its salty gift into Harry's throat.

Harry swallowed and swallowed and swallowed. Severus seemed to spray a lifetime's worth of semen into Harry's mouth before collapsing bonelessly against the green duvet.

Only when Severus deflated did Harry pull back. He looked up to where Severus' head was pillowed on the white pillowcase, his long hair a wild tangle across its length. He was just in time to see Severus' eyes open.

Severus appeared almost . . . lost as their eyes met. With all his guards gone, he seemed shocked, bewildered, and horribly vulnerable. He looked as if he were lying there just waiting to be hurt.

Taking a deep breath to calm his own frantic body, Harry shifted position and cautiously laid his mouth on Severus'. Harry let all those warm, protective feelings he'd experienced when embracing Severus earlier flavour the kiss. He felt blasted open himself; he could only imagine how devastated Severus must be feeling.

After a moment, Severus' hands gripped his shoulders, pulling him in close as that slender mouth opened to him. It was a long time before Harry pulled back for air. When he did, the panic seemed to have left Severus' gaze. In its place was something new and fragile, a glow that Harry had never had directed at him before.

Sensing how easy it would be to shatter this moment, Harry held still, willing that glow to last.

Eventually Severus broke eye contact, his gaze moving to the nearby nightstand. A muttered spell had the drawer opening, then a small brown jar floated up and over to Harry.

Harry fetched the jar out of the air, before giving Severus a questioning glance.

Severus was still flushed with traces of that blown-away expression lingering in his still open face. After a moment, Severus spread his thighs.

Harry gave a helpless grunt as his erection lost the hard muscle it had been pressed against as his hips fell between Severus' splayed legs.

Shaking with need, Harry opened the jar and drew a generous amount of the white cream onto his fingers. Shifting a bit, he reached between Severus' legs, feeling around until he found what he was looking for.

Severus was as tight as he'd been their first night together. Harry didn't know if it were nerves or if Severus really were that tight naturally, but it was almost like taking a virgin every time.

Tonight was no different. Harry had to work to make that wonderfully snug passage open up to him. They'd never done it face-to-face before. This was the first time he was able to see Severus' expression as he moved his fingers inside him. The only description he could come up with was incandescent. That wonderful glow was back tenfold.

As their gazes touched, Harry had the horrible feeling that this was another thing that most of Severus' previous partners either skipped or rushed through. He knew how easily it could happen. Severus' harsh personality defied tenderness, and most wizards weren't interested in anything but fucking when they encountered someone willing to bottom.

When he felt Severus was loose enough, Harry quickly coated his own cock. He hardly ever did it in this position, so there was a moment of awkwardness as he moved between Severus' legs.

To his relief, Severus brought his knees up to his chest, tilting his butt upwards for easy access. Taking hold of Severus' bony hips, Harry positioned himself and carefully nudged into Severus. He'd never been as conscious of anything as he was that dark gaze watching his every move.

The resistance was greater face to face, the penetration deeper. It was a slow glide inwards. Harry looked up at Severus' face, hoping that he wasn't hurting him, and found himself snared by those glittering black eyes.

He literally felt like he was falling into Severus' gaze. Only, it wasn't dark and bottomless like it always seemed. Tonight it was warm and embracing. As Harry sank deeper into Severus' body, pressing in until his pelvis bone and balls were crushed tight to Severus' butt, he'd never felt more welcomed anywhere.

Harry strained forward for a kiss, but he was too damn short to make the stretch. Severus' hand left his shoulder to cup the back of his head, and then Severus was straining up to meet his mouth.

Their lips locked onto each other. Severus gave his cock an internal squeeze, and then Harry began to move, his tongue mimicking the motion of his hips. In and out, over and over, they rocked together for what felt like an eternity.

More than the mere physical pleasure, Harry was nearly overwhelmed by his emotional response. Those warm protective feelings were back, only they had sharp edges now, hooks that were digging into his heart and soul, anchoring him to this man and moment as he'd never been tied to anyone or anything in his life.

Harry knew he didn't want this feeling to end, ever. This wasn't like anything he'd ever known. There was a tender quality to it, a totally impossible innocence, that was ripping him to pieces inside. But it was a good kind of destruction, the kind that made way for new growth.

Severus' fingers tensed on his shoulders, those neatly trimmed nails digging into the skin. A heartbeat later Severus broke the kiss with a cry, spraying his warm seed onto Harry's chest.

The tight channel gripping him quivered in reaction to Severus' orgasm, the sensation pushing Harry over the edge. Burying his face in the nook of Severus' shoulder and neck, Harry groaned as his body shook with pleasure. He felt liquefied. Like every bone had melted under the blazing ecstasy, and all that he was rushed into Severus as spurt after spurt of delight rocked through him.

When it was over, he collapsed on top of Severus. Severus spread his knees wide apart so that Harry landed on his chest rather than on his bony legs. Then those long legs wrapped intimately around Harry's waist and Harry was cocooned in that beloved scent and warmth.

Harry gave a mental start at the adjective his pleasure-blasted mind had chosen to define Severus' familiar smell and heat. Beloved. He'd never been close enough to anyone to employ that word before. As weird as it was to even consider using it to define Snape, there was no way Harry could deny the truth throbbing through his veins with every rushed beat of his heart.

'Beloved' fit. It wasn't something he could ever tell Severus, but it was true and Harry didn't even try to deny it as he laid there totally drained, waiting for the world to realign around him as he fought for each breath.

The oxygen finally seemed to return to the room. Thinking that Severus might like to sample some of it without eight stone weighing down his chest, Harry shifted most of his weight onto the mattress, leaving only his right side resting gently against Severus.

Only afterwards did Harry realize that it was unusual that Severus hadn't pushed him off before that. However, when he glanced up at Severus' face, Severus appeared as overwhelmed as he felt.

Normally, as soon as they ended, they'd be at it again. Tonight was different. Harry felt like every ounce of his energy and magic had been transferred into Severus when he came, and Severus' weary, wary expression seemed to indicate that he was suffering a similar drain.

This was when Harry would usually clear out, when the sex was over for the night, as it now seemed to be.

Severus seemed to be waiting for him to do just that; although the tension gripping his body and the tight set of his face told Harry that it wasn't something Severus particularly desired.

They'd broken through a lot of barriers tonight, gone places that neither of them had ever imagined visiting, at least not together. Harry figured that smashing down one more wouldn't be that big a deal. Or at least he hoped it wouldn't. He felt so open right now that a rejection might crush him.

Reaching out to brush the long hair clear of Severus' eyes, Harry softly asked, "Can I stay?"

"What?" Severus appeared completely distracted by the touch.

Encouraged by that helpless reaction, Harry explained, "Can I stay the night here with you?"

Even after what they'd shared, Severus seemed surprised by the request. Total shock passed across those strong features before they were schooled to their usual bland set. Severus might be able to control his expression, but he could do nothing about hiding what his eyes revealed.

Even before Severus opened his mouth to speak, the shocked pleasure in his gaze gave Harry his answer.

"If you must," Severus answered, trying for a nonchalance he never achieved.

Grinning, Harry bent down to kiss those pursed lips. It was supposed to be a fast, chaste thank you, but when Harry finally emerged for air a long time later, they were both breathless.

Settling his head on the pillow beside Severus', Harry slung an arm and leg intimately over his companion before letting his eyes sink shut. He thought he could feel Severus staring at him as he drifted off to sleep.


Even before he was fully conscious, Harry was aware that he was under observation. After being an Auror for so long, his self-preservation instincts were as honed as his reflexes. Yet, even as he acknowledged that he was being watched, part of him relaxed as he breathed in the familiar scent on the pillow his nose was squashed against. He couldn't ever recall having known anyone well enough to recognize their scent on the sheets, but even after only a week, Severus' scent was becoming a comforting constant.

Harry cracked an eyelid open. Sure enough, Severus was lying on his side several inches away, observing him from across the pillow as though he were the most fascinating sight in the universe. Even half-asleep, Harry couldn't help but note how good Severus looked with his hair all mussed from sex and his naked form peeking sensually out from under the duvet. Unfortunately, Harry's favourite bits were covered.

Grinning, because it felt incredibly decadent to wake beside a lover, Harry croaked out a raspy, "Good morning."

"Mmmmm," Severus gave a non-committal reply.

"Did you sleep at all?" Harry asked.

"Some. I'm not accustomed to sharing a bed," Severus admitted.

Failing to find any true irritation in Severus' voice, Harry said, "Neither am I."

"Yet, you slept like the dead," Severus observed.

Harry smiled. "Guess you wore me out."

To his delight, Severus' cheeks filled with colour. Clearly unsure how to handle this, Severus glanced away.

Loving this unexpected, bashful side of Severus, Harry leaned in to kiss Severus' cheek, wanting to spare the man his morning breath. But Severus' hands rose to frame his face, and the next thing Harry knew, his mouth was being taken in a deep, wet kiss. Neither of them had brushed their teeth yet or performed a teeth cleansing charm, so they were both predictably rough. Still, it was a taste Harry thought he could get used to. He was still a little awed that Severus would initiate the kiss. Up until now, he'd been the one to begin most sexual contact.

He didn't resist as Severus drew him closer, guiding him until he was nestled on top of him. Severus was a somewhat bony cushion, but Harry loved the heat and intimacy of it. Still locked in the kiss, their groins settled carefully together in a sensual press. Harry began to rock his hips, and the world swirled around him as the gentle motion set off blast after blast of delight.

He'd never had a sleepy morning lie in with a lover. Hell, for that matter, he'd never had a lover, not one like Severus, who welcomed him every night and didn't require him to live up to his press. This was . . . wonderful, absolutely perfect.

His body apparently agreed, because within moments, he was spraying his seed over their tight pressed bellies. Since Severus immediately followed suit, Harry didn't feel an apology necessary.

Severus was regarding him as though he expected one to be demanded of him. He looked as though he couldn't quite believe his own temerity.

"God, you're amazing," Harry sighed once they managed to rip their mouths away from each other. To his relief, the worry instantly left Severus' eyes, to be replaced by that light Harry had noticed last night. He wondered if his own reaction were that obvious, and he suspected that he was probably much worse since he'd never been good at hiding his feelings.

"That head injury was quite serious, wasn't it?" Severus shocked him by joking. Beneath his outer cool, Severus looked like he was ready to burst from excitement.

"Sure feels serious from where I'm lying," Harry replied, the words taking on another meaning entirely as they escaped his lips.

Severus' eyebrows tried to climb off his forehead as he obviously absorbed the deeper meaning.

Recognizing his mistake, Harry tried to back paddle with, "Ignore me. My brain doesn't start functioning until my first coffee."

Everything feeling deadly serious at the moment, Harry held his breath, awaiting his fate.

After the longest pause in the history of the universe, Severus offered a painfully self-conscious, "Yet, truth so often seems to escape when we are not at our best."

Severus looked as panicked as Harry felt, even though his face was locked in that non-expression.

The tightness in Harry's chest slowly unfurled as he untangled what the words were really saying. Snape had courage; Harry had to hand it to him. Every time Harry did something stupid and expected Severus to bolt, Severus surprised him by handling it. It meant a lot to him that Severus would offer him that comfort after he'd so stupidly babbled out something that every wizard over the age of fourteen knew better than to voice.

Harry knew the ball was back in his court. He could laugh the whole thing off. That would be the wise thing to do. Instead, he held Severus' gaze and offered a quiet, "Yes, it does."

Right choice.

Though the emotions were clearly too much for Severus to openly address, the way the tension seemed to seep out of his tight-held form spoke volumes.

"Er, what are your plans for the day?" Harry asked, hoping to put things back on a normal footing, as if there were any such thing after waking up in Severus Snape's bed.

Severus drew in a deep breath. "Beyond working in the lab, I hadn't any." Seeming to be mentally reminding himself that conversation was a two-way affair, Severus visibly forced himself to ask, "And you? What are your plans?"

"I play in an amateur Quidditch league. We practice every other Saturday morning. I'll, er, need to get moving soon," Harry said, wishing he could beg off the Quidditch, but he'd been injured two weeks ago and missed the last game.

"Yes, of course," Severus replied, his eyes shifting away, but not before Harry saw the regret in them.

Hoping he wasn't making another tactical error, Harry found himself asking, "Would you like to come watch? A lot of the blokes bring friends and family down. It'll be cold as hell and we'll doubtless freeze our balls off, but I thought we could have lunch afterwards and then maybe take in a show or something."

"A show?" Severus questioned.

"I sometimes go to the Muggle theatre. Hermione used to like it. She said a little culture never hurt anyone. I guess I grew used to going," Harry offered defensively, waiting for the scalding diatribe on what passed for Muggle culture that he knew Snape would have given years ago.

For all that he knew that Severus was a half-blood like Seamus Finnigan, Severus had never publicly owned up to it, choosing, like so many of his house, to scorn Muggle ways.

After a tense pause, Severus quietly said, "I've never been to a Muggle play."

"Would you like to go?" Harry asked.

Severus gave a slow nod.

"Perfect," Harry said, grinning because he really hadn't believed Severus would go for it.

"You do realize that you could ask me to go pet grindylows with you and I would gladly accompany you at this point, don't you?" Severus said, not nearly as disturbed by the fact as he should have been. "Clearly, you are not the only one suffering a serious head injury."

Laughing at Severus' affronted, yet amused, expression, Harry said, "I'll ask the lads to be careful not to send any bludgers your way in that case. Come on. We have to get dressed."

An hour later, Harry was leading Severus across the open sunny field where his team practiced. The goal posts weren't up yet, but it looked like most of the team and their guests were assembling at the far end of the wind-blown field.

Severus' black robes were flapping around him like a tall ship's mainsail. Harry's own blue Quidditch robes were equally airborne.

"Hey, Harry," Robbie Marstan greeted as Harry and Severus approached the group.

If Harry had a friend at all in the world these days, it was most probably the amiable Marstan. The tall, muscular blond was like an enormous puppy. Muggle born and reared, he shared a lot in common with Harry.

"Hi, ya, Robbie," Harry said, his arm resting on Severus' elbow. "This is my friend, Severus Snape. Severus, Robbie Marstan."

Robbie's blue eyes widened in shock as he recognized Severus. Snape was still as infamous these days as Harry was famous. To Harry's relief, the shock gave way to Robbie's usual, ready grin as he said, "Hello."

"Mr. Marstan, I've heard a lot about you," Severus said with a surprisingly courteous nod.

Startled, Harry realized that he'd babbled on about Robbie for some time at dinner last night. The really surprising part was that Severus would remember. Harry turned a soft smile on his lover, before turning back to his fellow Auror.

"Call me, Robbie, please," Robbie said, sticking out his hand. "Good to meet you, Severus."

Harry held his breath. He knew Severus wasn't fond of this kind of social gesture. But to his amazement, Severus accepted Robbie's hand, a grave expression on his face as he shook it.

"Betsy," Robbie yelled at the laughing mob a couple of yards away. "Come over here and meet Harry's friend."

Robbie's Muggle sister, a plump blonde woman with a ready smile like her brother's, crossed to join them, along with half the team.

"It's so good to meet you!" Betsy enthused. She was obviously completely unaware of Severus' press. "Harry's never brought anyone to a game before."

The next ten minutes passed in a blur of hellos as Severus was introduced to the team and their accompanying friends and relations. To Harry's relief, everyone was punctiliously polite. Most of his team were friendly towards Severus, if openly curious about his presence here.

"All right, you layabouts! Let's get started," Richardson, the dark haired team captain, called.

"Will you be all right with this crew?" Harry whispered to Severus before joining his team.

Severus nodded. "I assure you, I am quite capable of taking care of myself."

Realizing how foolish he was being, Harry quickly said, "Yes, of course. I was just thinking of your head injury, was all."

To his delight, the corners of Severus' lips twisted up in an almost smile. "Understandable. Do be careful. You are operating with one as well."

Harry grinned. Loving this unexpected, playful side of Severus he was discovering, he leaned in closer to Severus' ear, and softly confessed, "I know it's insane, but I really want to kiss you."

Despite being visibly shocked by Harry's words, Severus answered in a completely normal voice, "That would be most unwise."

"Yeah, I know. I just – "

"Some time today, if you would, Potter!" Richardson's voice snapped over the sunny field.

"Well, I've got to run. See you later," Harry said, contenting himself with a friendly squeeze to Severus' shoulder.

"Doubtless," Severus drolly replied as Harry raced off to practice.

Harry knew he was acting like a besotted sixth year, but he found himself showing off outrageously during practice for Severus' sake. He'd always been good with a broom, but when he wanted to be, he could be bloody brilliant. Today, he pulled out all stops, turning the simple practice into an aerial ballet.

When they finally landed two hours later, Harry was exhausted to the bone and covered from head to foot with the ever-present mud. He was so filthy the colour of his robes could no longer be distinguished.

A similarly muddied Robbie fell into step beside him as the boisterous group made its way back to their audience.

"That was some mating dance you just flew up there," Robbie said in a low, joking tone. "You should bring Severus more often. With the way you were flying today, we'll beat the Ashbury Aces hollow if he's in the audience next month."

At first, Harry wasn't sure how to take the joking comment. He hadn't thought he'd been that obvious. Realizing that Robbie knew him too well to even try fooling him, Harry grinned and answered, "I'll make sure he's in the front row, in that case."

Robbie came to a stop beside him, glanced around, and softly said with apparent awkwardness, "But, seriously, Harry. It's good to see you happy, mate. It's been a long time."

Harry glanced away from those serious blue eyes to where Severus was waiting at the edge of the team's cheering section, his black robes flapping around him as he stood apart from the rest of the audience. It was strange, but just the sight of the admittedly grim figure waiting there for him sent a warm feeling through him. Turning back to Robbie, he patted his friend's back and admitted, "Try forever. But, you're right. It feels damn good. Thanks for being so – "

Harry wasn't sure what to say. Understanding, loyal, decent . . . homophobia was so rampant in the Wizarding World that any acceptance was a rare gift.

Robbie just flushed and said, "Stuff that. There isn't anything to thank me for. Come on; let's go get some of that hot cocoa Betsy brought."

Thinking that he was the luckiest man on Earth, Harry hurried over to Severus, still unable to believe that he really had someone waiting for him on the sidelines for once.


Six weeks later, Severus was still on the sidelines waiting for him.

Harry hardly knew what to make of their relationship. Even after all this time, they were both still cautious, acting like they expected the whole thing to blow up on them any second. Yet, as he had their first week together, Harry still came to Severus every single night. Only, he didn't leave after the sex now. He spent the night in Severus' bed, left for work from Severus' each morning, and returned there immediately afterwards. For all intents and purposes, he was living at Severus'. Only, neither of them had so much as commented upon it. He wasn't sure how a person could end up living with someone without any type of declaration or even invitation being voiced, but that was precisely what had happened.

And it was good. Better than good. For the first time ever, Harry felt truly happy, and, although Severus hadn't told him so, Harry was fairly certain he felt the same.

Which was why his present dilemma had blindsided Harry. He was virtually living with Severus. They made love every night, slept in the same bed, ate the same meals at the same table. They were incontestably lovers, most probably friends. Yet when Valentine's Day rolled around, Harry hadn't a clue what to do about it.

He'd been waging a silent campaign for the last six weeks to introduce Severus to the romance he'd never known in his life. Hell, Harry had never known it personally, either, so it was new to him, too. So far, Severus had been surprisingly agreeable. Severus never suggested any of their outings, but he'd agreed to each and every one of them. They'd been to both Wizarding and Muggle theatre, Muggle cinema, they ate out regularly, they did all the things people who dated did. Only, they never talked about what they were actually doing. Harry just asked and Severus accepted his invitations.

But Valentine's Day was a sticky wicket. Harry really wanted to acknowledge his feelings for Severus on this day devoted to lovers, but he knew Severus would scorn all of the traditional forms of celebration. What was he going to do, buy Severus a friendship ring? Or perhaps one of those stuffed bears holding a heart that said 'Love You'? Just the thought of Severus' reaction to roses or a box of candy was enough to make Harry shudder. And, yet, he still wanted to do something for him. But what? What did you give a man who scorned sentimentality and hated fuss? A man who lived only for his work and the brief time they spent together? Severus loved books, but the house was already overrun with the things, and Harry honestly had no idea which ones Severus already owned. The idea of a gift certificate was simply too cold. He wanted to give something personal, but not so personal as to be embarrassing.

Granted, Severus liked the theatre and he liked to eat out, but they did that regularly, so there really wouldn't be anything special about it.

Sitting at the office, purportedly writing out a report on the arrest Robbie and he had made that morning, Harry racked his brains. Theatre, food, books, potions . . . .

Harry froze. Potions. He couldn't even begin to imagine what ingredients Severus might want that he didn't already have, but he knew that many of the ingredients came from plants. Plants had flowers. Perhaps he could find a plant with an attractive flower that was unusual enough to please Severus. Only, what the hell did he know about plants? He knew if he walked into any florist this week, whether Wizarding or Muggle, that he'd end up with a bunch of singing roses or some other such rubbish. What he needed was some expert advice.

But where was he going to get expert advice on plants?

"Neville!" Harry cried out, jumping to his feet.

"What?" Robbie, who was actually working on his paperwork, asked from the desk across from his.

"I, er, I'm going to take the afternoon off," Harry blurted out.

"Sure thing, Harry. You've got more than a year of leave accumulated. The old man'll be glad to see you actually use some," Robbie said with a grin. "What's up?"

"It's this damn holiday," Harry grumbled. There wasn't another person on the planet he'd admit that too, including Severus.

But Robbie just grinned. "Know what you mean, mate. I've been seeing Carol for two months now. Had no idea what to do about tonight. I got her a necklace and a big box of candy, but . . . with all the hype, it never seems enough."

"I don't think a necklace and candy will do it for Severus," Harry lamented.

"What? You don't think Severus would like a necklace that says 'Petal'?" Robbie asked with a laugh.

Not for the first time, Harry thanked his stars that he preferred men. He couldn't imagine buying anything that . . . hideous.

"Would you want to give him a necklace that says 'Petal'?" Harry asked, shivering at the very thought.

"Not me, mate. I like living." Robbie grinned. "Your Severus strikes me as the dangerous sort."

"Well, he's definitely not the 'petal' sort," Harry said.

"What are you going to get him?" Robbie asked.

Harry sighed. "I thought I might get him something that was both practical and beautiful. Maybe something he could use in his work."

"A gold-plated cauldron?" Robbie suggested with a grin.

Harry answered it with one of his own. "Nah, gold plated is a bit on the cheap side, isn't it? If I'm going to do it, might as well go for the solid gold number."

"You're not serious, are you? That'll cost a fortune," Robbie said.

"If I thought he'd like it, I wouldn't mind. But, no. I can't see him liking a gold cauldron any better than your 'petal' necklace. I was thinking I'd get him an exotic plant that he could use as a potion ingredient afterwards."

Robbie appeared impressed. "Sounds good. What are you going to get him?"

Harry shrugged. "Haven't a clue. But I do have a friend who teaches Herbology at Hogwarts. Thought I'd pay him a visit and see if he had any suggestions."

"Well, good luck, mate," Robbie said.

"You, too. Have fun with Petal," Harry grinned.

"Very funny. Go on, get out of here before we end up on another job," Robbie warned.

"Hold down the fort till I get back," Harry said, finally taking his leave.

Hogwarts hadn't changed much in the last sixteen years. In fact, as Harry Apparated outside its gates and walked up to the castle door, it didn't seem to have changed at all. The faces of the students rushing by were different. To Harry, they looked younger than he and his mates had ever been, but on the whole everything was the same. The Whomping Willow, the lake, the ruins up by Hagrid's hut where Hermione had once punched Draco Malfoy on the day Buckbeak was to be executed, everything.

Thinking that he'd pay a visit to Hagrid after seeing Neville, Harry headed up to the greenhouse. A bell blared as he approached the doors, and dozens of students in their long black robes shot out of the greenhouse as though ejected from a cannon.

Harry waited until the rush had thinned before entering the room.

The sight of Neville Longbottom bracing up a slender sprout brought a smile to his face. His old friend hadn't changed much more than Hogwarts had. Neville still had that insecure, kind air about him. His cheeks had retained their boyish chubbiness, even though he'd grown taller and lost almost all his baby fat.

"'lo, Neville," Harry greeted.

Neville looked up and grinned, his blue eyes still as deep and sparkling as they'd been in school. "Harry, good to see you! Come in!"

They exchanged the usual pleasantries for the next ten minutes.

Harry was grateful that Neville didn't ask after either Ron or Hermione. Neville was a real friend and close enough to him to have been fully aware of the terrible nature of their split.

"You're not just here for a visit, I take it," Neville said at last.

"No, you're right. I actually came to consult you in your area of expertise," Harry admitted.

"For a case?" Neville asked excitedly.

"Sorry, no. It's personal. I'm, er, seeing someone who works with potions. He's not really the romantic sort, and I was wondering if you could maybe suggest a rare plant with a flower that he could eventually use as a potion ingredient?" Harry asked. Fortunately, Neville was one of the few of their old friends who hadn't passed judgement on his sexuality when Harry had finally had to admit the truth to everyone. Neville had managed to stay friends with both Ron and him, which was no easy task.

"You're seeing someone who isn't romantically inclined?" Neville questioned, understandably confused.

Harry sighed. "Well, he's not sentimental. I wanted to get him something that was practical as well as beautiful."

"Well, there's the Night Blooming Arcadium," Neville said. "It's used in dozens of medicines and potions. It's got brilliant, deep blue blossoms that open up at night. It's rare, very rare. I expect a Night Blooming Arcadium would even please a miserable bugger like Snape."

Harry tried to hide the start he gave at Neville's very natural comment, but, of course, it was noticed.

"You all right, Harry? What's wrong?" Neville asked worriedly, his freckled face scrunching up exactly as it had in school.

Harry shifted uncomfortably and met Neville's eyes. "Do you really think this Night Blooming Arcadium would please Snape?"

"Er, yes. Why . . . . " The penny obviously dropped and Neville paled. "Harry you're not saying that you're seeing . . . ?"

"Yeah, I am. Is that going to be a problem between us?" Harry asked. Due to Hogwarts' demanding schedule and his own weird hours, he didn't see Neville very often, but he'd hate to lose the man's friendship.

"You're seriously seeing Severus Snape?" Neville stuttered.

"Yes. I, er, guess you'd say we're living together more or less," Harry said. He'd given this a lot of thought over the last six weeks and decided he was going to be up front with all his closest friends about his relationship with Severus.

"I'd say you were joking, but – " Neville faltered.

"No joke. I know it's strange, but . . . . " Harry couldn't even begin to explain how he'd ended up with Severus. Neville might support his life choices, but he knew his old friend really didn't want details.

"Is he good to you?" Neville shocked him by asking.

Harry nodded. "Yeah, he is. I, er, wouldn't have believed it myself, but we get on quite well."

"Then I guess that's all that really matters," Neville said with a shy smile.

Relief sweeping through him, Harry patted Neville's arm and said, "Thanks, mate. About this Arcadium plant – "

Neville grinned. "I don't have any here in the greenhouse, but I know a supplier who will sell you one. Let me write you up a letter of introduction. Now," Neville said as he wiped the soil off his hands and moved to a battered-looking desk in the corner of the greenhouse to pull out parchment and quill, "tell me how you met up with Snape after all these years."

Four hours later, Harry Apparated into Severus' kitchen, plant in hand. The Night Blooming Arcadium was magnificent, with large, velvety leaves and delicate sapphire and white blossoms.

Fortunately, Severus was still down in his lab, so Harry was able to sneak the plant onto the dinner table. He'd gone home this morning to ask Dobby to prepare them the roast pork dinner that was Severus' favourite, so that should be arriving soon. All in all, he was quite pleased with how things were progressing.

"Master Harry?" Dobby's high-pitched voice enquired from behind him as Harry was bending into the icebox for a beer.

"Hello, Dobby!" Harry said, grinning at his friend. "Thank you so much for helping me with this."

"I am always wanting to help Master Harry. Is this where you've been staying when you haven't been coming home for me to look after you?" Dobby asked, looking around the kitchen.

Feeling strangely self-conscious for all but abandoning Dobby in his empty apartment these last six weeks, Harry said, "Yes."

"There aren't any house elves here," Dobby said with a huff.

"No, there aren't," Harry replied.

"How can you be staying in a place with no house elves to look after you? It's not right," Dobby scolded in a very maternal manner.

"I like it here, Dobby," Harry said. "Do you remember Professor Snape from Hogwarts?"

"Professor Snape that was always cruel to Harry Potter? I remember him well," Dobby said.

Never having imagined that this would be this difficult, Harry said, "Well, this is his house. And, he isn't cruel to me anymore."

"Well, I should hope not," a familiar, droll voice said from behind him, where the cellar door opened into the kitchen. "I suppose it would be too much to ask what's going on here?"

"Oh, Dobby is ruining Harry Potter's surprise!" Dobby wailed and banged his head against the sink.

"What the devil – " Severus exclaimed, staring at the house elf as though Dobby were insane.

"Dobby, stop!" Harry commanded, catching the elf before he could bang his little head against the edge of the white porcelain sink again. "Nothing's ruined. Why don't you go home and bring the surprise by in about ten minutes. All right?"

"Nothing is ruined? You promise?" Dobby asked, his long-fingered hand rubbing at a bump growing on his forehead.

"Yes, I promise. Now, just . . . go. All right?" Harry pleaded, frazzled by how totally wrong this was going.

Dobby's huge green eyes hardened as they turned in Severus' direction. "I will be knowing if you are unkind to Harry Potter."

Severus' glare would have quelled armies of Death Eaters. It didn't seem to faze the loyal little house elf in the slightest.

"I'm shaking in my boots," Severus sneered.

"I remember you of old from my former master's house, Severus Snape. Even my former master learned it was unwise to harm Harry Potter in my presence," Dobby said, watching Severus as though he were dirt.

Before this could progress any further, Harry got between the two potential combatants. "Dobby, Master Snape isn't going to harm me. He's my . . . friend now. Everything is all right. If you'd just bring the surprise like we discussed . . . ."

"Yes, of course. Dobby is sorry for upsetting Harry Potter. I will – "

"No," Harry cried out, intervening before Dobby could do himself any more harm. "Just go home and get the you know what, all right?"

"Yes, Harry Potter," Dobby agreed and Apparated away with a loud pop.

"Well, that was lovely," Severus said with his characteristic sarcasm. "Hello, by the way."

Harry sighed as Severus moved closer to him. Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around his lover and gave Severus a kiss. It still sometimes felt strange to him how . . . non-combative Severus was with him. Though occasionally short-tempered, Severus was incredibly accommodating.

When they pulled back, Severus said, "You're home early. Do I want to know what the surprise is?"

"Er . . . you're early yourself, aren't you? You don't usually come up from the basement till six," Harry tried to keep the accusation out of his voice.

Severus shrugged. "I felt the house elf cross my security wards. I was curious to see what it was up to. And that evasion of my question was not the least bit subtle."

"You have security wards?" Harry blundered out before realizing how stupid a question it was. What wizard with Severus' chequered past wouldn't have security wards? "Forget I asked that. Why haven't they stopped me? I've been coming and going freely since . . . well, since our first night."

Severus was silent for a moment. Finally, he met Harry's gaze and softly answered. "After that first night I added you to the total access list."

"How many are on that list?" Harry asked. As far as he knew, Severus hadn't had a single visitor in the last six weeks.

"You, and myself," Severus replied with obvious reluctance.

"So how did Dobby get past them? Or don't the wards work on house elves?" Harry asked, taking a strange pleasure at Severus having added him to his wards that early in their relationship.

"Of course they work on house elves," Severus replied a mite peevishly. "Shortly after you . . . started staying over, I added Harry Potter's guests to the wards."

"My guests?" Harry echoed, bewildered. "But I've never had anyone over."

Truth was, he would never have taken that liberty with his privacy-loving lover.

"Nevertheless, the possibility existed. You are very friendly with young Marstan. It seemed a reasonable precaution," Severus said.

Touched, Harry moved back into Severus' personal space. "Thank you, Severus."

When they emerged from the resulting kiss, Severus asked, "The surprise?"

"You'll see in a few moments," Harry said, glad that he'd told Dobby ten minutes. He knew he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer than that, especially if Severus chose to fight dirty, and, realistically, when did Severus ever chose to do anything but?

"So you've taken on Malfoy's old house elf, hmm?" Severus commented. "I'd wondered where he'd gotten to."

"Dobby lives with me. He . . . well, I pay him," Harry added defensively.

But Severus wasn't Hermione. He didn't have to justify everything to him.

"I assure you, I've no interest in your domestic arrangements with that psychotic house elf," Severus said.

"He's not psychotic," Harry protested, defensive again. "I, er, think he's jealous of you."

"Jealous?" Severus repeated, his eyes widening in something like horror. "Please, Potter, disperse the horribly unnatural images playing through my mind."

"You have a filthy mind," Harry said, forcing his face to remain serious. "I can't believe you'd even suggest that I'd . . . with a house elf!"

"Stranger things have happened," Severus said with a shrug.

"Yes. I suppose they have. Just for the record, there is no unnatural relationship there. Dobby's just jealous because I've been here so much lately."

"I see," Severus said. He glanced over at the stove and added, "It occurred to me that we could be in some trouble regarding dinner. I didn't notice the date until this afternoon, and by then it was too late to make reservations. I was at a delicate point in my experiment and – "

Another pop sounded from the dining room outside the kitchen door.

"What was that?" Severus asked. His eyes closed, and Harry knew he was checking his wards. "The house elf is back."

"The surprise is ready," Dobby announced, sticking his head into the kitchen around the doorjamb.

"Thank you, Dobby," Harry said.

He and Severus turned towards the dining room. They both froze at the sight that awaited them there.

Harry blinked in surprise. He'd arranged this and asked Dobby for everything, but his small friend had really outdone himself.

The table was set for a king, or possibly a Malfoy. The lit candelabras looked like they were made of solid gold. The table cloth was laced silk. The plates fine china, with crystal wine glasses. The fragrant gold platter in the centre of the table beside the Night Blooming Arcadium was immense. There were fully a dozen smaller covered serving plates grouped around it. Everything sparkled and glowed as though it had a charm on it.

Severus blinked, turning to him in confusion, "What . . . that's . . . that's Night Blooming Arcadium. It's almost extinct. Wherever did you find it?"

Severus rushed to the table, reaching out to touch the plant's velvety leaves with obvious reverence. Neville hadn't mentioned the extinct bit, Harry thought. Severus' open delight made Harry think he owed Neville a dinner at the very least.

Once Severus had finished examining the Arcadium plant, he moved it off the table to the sideboard against the wall.

"The heat from the platter could damage it," Severus explained.

"You like it then?" Harry checked.

"Like it? I'm . . . astonished, if a little bewildered. What are the plant and this dinner in aid of – oh," Severus paused, visibly awkward, "Today's date?"

Harry gave a hesitant nod, unsure how Severus felt about his gesture, which he now realized might be deemed as over the top. "I, er, knew you wouldn't care for a box of candy or a necklace that says 'Petal' . . . ." Realizing he was blabbering, Harry promptly shut his mouth.

"Did you say 'Petal'?" Severus asked.

"That's what Robbie got his girl," Harry explained, feeling like a fool. "I, er, wanted to get you something, but the traditional things didn't seem . . . appropriate."

"Well, certainly not a necklace that says 'Petal'," Severus said with a true smile. "This is far better. That is roast pork that I'm smelling, isn't it?"

Harry nodded again. He was almost limp with relief. He knew how badly this could have gone, especially with Dobby's aggressive behaviour, but once again Severus surprised him.

Severus came back to him. His face uncharacteristically open, almost tender, Severus softly said, "Thank you, Potter. This was . . . quite thoughtful."

This kiss was longer than the last, leaving them both breathless.

Reading the same heat in Severus' eyes that was sparking through his own blood, Harry said, "We should probably eat dinner before it gets cold."

"Yes, of course," Severus agreed.

They sat down across from each other. The candlelight was the only light in the room. It turned Severus' face a warm gold.

Severus lifted the lid off the centre platter, releasing even more of the exquisite aroma. "You do know that this is my favourite?"

"That was sort of the idea," Harry said, not understanding why he felt so damn bashful. Severus was obviously pleased. His idea had been a success, and, yet, Harry was still almost nervous.

The silence that fell between them as they began to eat was companionable. They weren't strangers anymore. Yet, every time Harry looked up and found that dark gaze resting on him, a battalion of butterflies seemed to flutter through him.

When they were done with afters, Severus reached into the pocket of his black robe and said, "I realize that this can't really compare with your presents, but I'd like you to have it, nonetheless. In light of today's date."

Abruptly, Severus appeared as nervous as Harry had felt earlier. "I thought you said you'd forgotten what date it was?"

Harry loved the self-conscious expression that Severus couldn't quite hide as he replied, "I've actually had it for some time. The moment just never seemed appropriate to give it to you."

Totally curious as to what Severus would have gotten him, especially since he hadn't expected anything at all, Harry reached out to accept whatever it was Severus was handing to him.

Whatever it was, it was cold, metallic, and heavy as it settled in his palm. Harry drew the gift back and opened his hand. He knew without checking that the object was solid gold. The miniature broom was an exact replica of his newest Firebolt. But it wasn't just a memento. The broom had a small hook on it, to which a large silver key was attached.

"I realize that it isn't as exciting as a necklace that says 'Petal', and that it really is a rather useless gesture, considering that you've been on the wards for more than six weeks now. I just felt you should have it," Severus said, with obvious awkwardness.

Harry swallowed hard. "It's a key to the front door, isn't it?"

Severus nodded.

Overwhelmed, Harry carefully placed the key on the table. Then he all but flung himself at Severus.

Severus caught him. Harry climbed onto his lover's lap. Their mouths met, and a few moments later, they were sliding from Severus' chair down to the green oriental carpet.

Their hands moved feverishly over each other, undoing buttons and zippers. In record time, they were naked on the uncomfortable mound of their clothes.

Severus drew him on top of him. It was a familiar position, but the thrill of it never ceased to amaze Harry. A million shockwaves of delight rocked through him as all that warm skin made nice with his own.

Severus' mouth was an addictive narcotic. It was flavoured with the coffee they'd drunk and Severus' own distinct taste. Harry decided he could drown in it.

Even after all this time, that's what it felt like – drowning. He was over his head, and sinking deeper with every day that passed, but for once he wasn't scared of losing himself in someone. Severus wasn't about to disappoint him. If the man could accept this sentimental gesture, and give him the key to his house, then Harry was pretty certain that Severus could take anything he dished out. But right now, all Harry was interested in was getting as close as possible to that delectable warmth.

Severus' lean, athletic thighs parted, and Harry's groin sank companionably between them, nestling against Severus' impressive shaft. The familiar brown jar of homemade lubricant came floating over to Harry. He picked it out of the air, and then put it down on the floor beside Severus' head without opening it. He liked things just as they were.

Leaning up for a kiss, Harry began to rock his hips. Severus' hands clutched him tighter, and he rose to meet Harry's every thrust.

Losing himself in the kiss and the exquisite sensations thrumming through him, Harry gave himself over to this familiar dance.

All too soon, they were tumbling over that chasm, into the timeless ecstasy of climax. Harry could never really tell who came first; he was usually so far gone. This time he thought it might have been Severus. All he knew was that they were both spraying their bellies and creating a sticky, warm mess between them.

Then the passion crested, and they were lost in that wonderful lassitude that always followed. It felt like they floated there forever, trading lazy kisses.

Vaguely, Harry was aware of a pop sounding behind him. Then a familiar high-pitched voice gave a panicked, "Dobby is thinking he should come back to clean up later." Another pop, and blessed silence followed.

Horrified, Harry stared down at Severus.

Severus' face was terribly contorted. Harry feared that his reserved lover was having a heart attack or some kind of seizure, but after a moment, Severus burst out in laughter. "I dare say that left him shaking in his boots."

And then Harry was laughing as well, and all was right with his world.


The red velvet curtains on stage slowly rolled closed. Harry clapped until his hands hurt, Severus doing the same beside him. The applause continued as the actors came out for a bow. Finally, the actors left the stage, the lights came up in the theatre, and people began to clear out of their seats.

"So, did you enjoy that one?" Harry asked. He knew he'd been taking a chance with As You Like It, since Severus' sense of humour was chancy at times, but whenever Harry had looked over at his lover, Severus had seemed completely absorbed by the play.

"This Shakespeare was very talented for a Muggle, wasn't he?" Severus questioned.

The shapely brunette woman rising from the seat beside Severus cast a strange look at the potions master.

Hiding his smile, Harry answered, "Yeah, a bit. Do you want to stop in at the Leaky Cauldron for drinks on the way home?"

Severus gave an absent nod. "Can we see more of this Shakespeare's work?"

"Of course. I'll see what I can find for next weekend," Harry promised.

When their aisle was finally open enough to allow them to leave, Severus and he rose to their feet. Side by side, they walked down the red carpet in the old theatre's long centre row.

They were just about to step out into the lobby when a familiar, unexpected voice called, "Harry?"

Recognizing Hermione's voice immediately, Harry turned, tensing. It was just as he'd anticipated. Ron was with her.

It was weird to see someone who'd been closer to you than a brother after a ten-year absence. Unlike Neville, Harry noticed the things that had changed in Ron. The Muggle clothes Ron was wearing showed that he was more muscular now, and a lot taller. The one thing that hadn't altered, however, was the hardness in those brown eyes.

"Hello, Hermione," Harry greeted, giving a guarded, "Ron."

"It's good to see you, Harry," Hermione said with a genuine smile, casting a hopeful look her husband's way.

Harry had to admire her optimism. Even after all these years, she still clearly hoped for a reconciliation between Ron and him. The dark look that shadowed Ron's long, freckled face was hardly encouraging.

The really pathetic part was that there was some part of Harry that hoped that Ron would relent, even after all this time and distance. He hated how stupid that hope made him feel.

Hermione's gaze turned to Severus, her eyes going large as saucers as she recognized Harry's companion. "Professor Snape? Hello."

Harry was genuinely amazed that Neville hadn't shared the news of whom Harry was currently dating with her. He hated to admit it, but he always expected the worst when it came to gossip. But then, Neville had always displayed surprising discretion.

"I haven't been a professor for many years now, Mrs. Weasley," Severus gave a guarded reply.

The silence that fell as Hermione gaped at them in open shock was utterly unbearable.

Predictably enough, it was Ron who broke the tense silence. "So, you've taken up with a Death Eater now? It's bad enough you had to break her heart and disgrace poor Ginny with your disgusting – "

"Ronald, that's enough!" Hermione shouted.

Ron's words hit him like a shower of acid. Harry couldn't believe how much they hurt after all this time.

Fortunately, they appeared to be the only four people lingering in the now deserted theatre. That Death Eater comment could have been a problem.

Facing off with Ron, Harry opened his mouth to give the stupid git a piece of his mind, but before he could say a word, Severus' icy voice offered, "I would hardly deem a woman who just delivered her sixth child heartbroken. Clearly, your sister isn't pining away for Potter. You might take a page from her book and try growing up, Weasley."

"Why you filthy – " Ron began.

"Just shut up," Harry hissed before Ron could say anything unforgivable. The last thing they needed was a duel in a Muggle theatre. "You leave those I care about alone. You've no right to judge me. Just . . . piss the fuck off." Catching Hermione's horrified gaze, Harry said, "Sorry, Hermione."

Grabbing hold of Severus' arm, he turned and stormed into the lobby. Blinded by rage, it took him a moment to realize that Severus was tugging at him.

Beyond thought, Harry allowed himself to be led.

Severus guided him into the men's room, which was fortunately empty at the moment. Once the door closed behind them, Severus' dark gaze scoured the room. Then he took hold of Harry and the next thing Harry knew, they were standing in Severus' familiar sitting room.

Harry was horrified to realize he was shaking.

Severus pressed something into his hand. Harry stared down at the golden liquid in the tumbler.

"Drink it," Severus softly ordered.

Harry did so without protest, hoping that the firewhiskey's burn would drown the blaze of fury. After a long time of standing there, seeing nothing, Harry took a deep breath and turned to Severus, who was watching him with open worry less than a foot away. "I, er, I'm sorry about that."

"What have you to be sorry for?" Severus answered.

"That scene was hardly pleasant," Harry said, unable to believe how upset he still was. After ten years, you would have thought he'd have known better.

"And I suppose you find the times wizards spit 'Death Eater' at me enjoyable?" Severus countered.

"That's different," Harry objected.

"Not to me, it isn't," Severus softly answered. "Come, sit down."

Harry allowed himself to be guided over to the sofa. He braced himself, waiting for the questions that he knew had to be burning in Severus – who wouldn't have been curious after that awful row? – but Severus simply sat at his side, shooting him surreptitious glances when he thought Harry wasn't watching.

Too tense for pretence, Harry finally said, "In all the time we've been together, you've never asked me about them."

He'd dreaded those inevitable questions. Everyone wanted to know what happened to the famous threesome. But Severus had never asked, not once. Only now did Harry recognize that, aside from casual inquiries into how his day had gone, Severus never asked him anything personal at all.

"And you've never asked me what I did as a Death Eater," Severus answered in a low voice. "You never speak of them. I assumed . . . something had happened to come between you."

"You could say that," Harry said. Sighing, because it was all too much, he continued, "I, er, realized – "

"Potter," Severus firmly, but gently interrupted him, "you needn't go into this. You do not have to explain yourself to me or justify anything."

To Harry's shock, Severus meant the words.

No one had ever given him this kind of acceptance before, not even Ron and Hermione when things had been good between them. His throat tightened up like someone had cast a curse on it. Gulping around the reaction, Harry softly said, "Maybe I need to tell you. Maybe I need for you, of all people, to know me."

He wondered how many times a day he startled Severus. This was clearly one of those times. He heard Severus swallow, and then Severus shifted position so that he was facing him on the sofa. Severus' left arm settled on the couch back, his long yellow-stained fingers coming to rest on Harry's shoulder in a gesture that might have been casual, but wasn't.

"As you wish," Severus said.

"I, er, was engaged to Ginny for two years. It was . . . comfortable. I'd always wanted to have a family like the Weasleys, and . . . I was finally going to get my wish, only . . . ."

"Only?" Severus gently encouraged. There was something in his eyes that told Harry that he already knew what Harry was about to say, but then, in light of Ron's words earlier this evening, the truth probably wasn't hard to guess.

"Only the sex wasn't happening anymore," Harry confessed. "Hadn't been for . . . well, over a year, really. Ginny and I were like an old married couple, only . . . we weren't married. We were at her family's Christmas dinner when I looked across the table at Bill Weasley and, well, I, er – "

"Had something of an epiphany?" Severus suggested.

"Yeah. It was . . . horrible. I was sitting there with Ginny holding my hand, when I realized that the thing I wanted more than anything was to shag her oldest brother."

"Did you?" Severus asked.

"Did I what?" Harry asked, confused.

"Shag Bill Weasley?"

Harry couldn't believe that Severus was asking him that, and in such a normal tone, like it would be no big deal if he had. "Of course not. I . . . it totally freaked me out. I tried to pretend that nothing was different, but . . . those feelings weren't going away. Finally, I had to tell her."

"That you wanted her brother and not her?" Severus asked, once again in that completely non-judgmental tone.

"No. I made it general. Told her that I had feelings for other men. She didn't take it well, but Ron . . . he, well, you saw how he was. Ginny was married to Dean Thomas less than a year after I broke it off, but . . . the family's never forgiven me," Harry said. "Hermione has tried to stay friends with me, but it's hard with her being married to Ron and all."

Harry looked at Severus, wondering what he thought of the melodramatic mess.

That strong featured face was remarkably undisturbed. "It often seems that to be true to our nature, we must sacrifice those things that matter the most to us."

"Did you have to sacrifice your friends when you . . . figured out that you liked men?" Belatedly realizing that just because he felt compelled to spill his guts didn't necessarily mean that Severus was similarly inclined, Harry quickly said, "Sorry. You don't have to answer that. It's really none of my business."

Severus expression was uncharacteristically tender as he replied, "If not yours, then whose is it? The answer is no, Potter. Until quite recently, I never had anything to lose. That is, I regret, the story of my life."

Unravelling what that 'until quite recently' really meant, tonight's scene suddenly didn't seem that important. Harry was stunned that Severus would admit such a thing to him, but as was usual between them, Severus had told him without really saying anything.

Drawn like metal filings to a magnet, Harry shifted closer. As Severus' arms came around him, Harry rested his cheek against Severus' black robes, taking a deep, shuddery breath.

"Was," Harry whispered, clutching Severus tight.

"What?" Severus asked, his hand slipping on to Harry's back and rubbing in comforting circles.

"Was the story of your life," Harry whispered, hoping he wasn't about to blow things. Even after all these weeks, he still wasn't certain how Severus felt about openly addressing what was between them. "We both have something to lose now."

Severus' arms tightened almost painfully around him.

Generally, the mood would alter about now, they'd end up kissing, and then naked. But for once, Harry wasn't in any rush to take things further. Right now, he was content to simply hold Severus and be held. The truly incredible thing was, Severus seemed to feel exactly the same.


"I thought we might do something different tonight," Harry said as they lingered over their espressos in Alfonso's the following Friday night.

"Oh?" Severus enquired. "What did you have in mind?"

"I thought we might go to Whispers," Harry suggested.

To his confusion, Severus' entire body seemed to turn to stone across from him, his face actually blanching of colour.

"What's wrong?" Harry whispered, reaching out to grip Severus' forearm.

Severus pulled his arm away. Hissing like a snake, he quietly demanded, "You wish to see other men?"

"What?" Harry wasn't sure how they'd gone from stopping into someplace together to seeing other men. He supposed that the subject of whether or not they were an exclusive relationship should have come up long before now, but, like many important things, it never had.

"What other reason would a gay wizard visit Whispers?" Severus asked, still stiff with anger.

"Well, for starters, I could kiss you there without creating a riot," Harry said, holding those doubtful eyes.

Severus stared at him for a long moment. Slowly, the pique left his expression and his long body seemed to unfurl from its tense set.

"Kiss me?" Severus whispered.

"Among other things. What do you think?" Realizing that Severus might have no desire to visit a meat market now that they were together, Harry added, "If you'd rather not, we could – "

"No." Severus seemed much more himself, if slightly more self-conscious than normal. "There's no reason why we shouldn't."

Accepting Severus' decision, Harry signalled Maria for the bill.

Ten minutes later, they'd Apparated to the front of the familiar bar.

Severus appeared to brace himself beside him as they moved towards the entrance.

For a moment, Harry debated giving in to his impulse. Thinking that Severus would let him know if he were displeased or uncomfortable, Harry silently hooked his arm through his lover's. Taking Severus' hand would have probably been a clearer statement of their status, but Harry really didn't think that Severus would be comfortable with that.

As it was, Severus seemed to momentarily freeze in shock.

Harry caught his eye, gave a smile, and pushed open the inner door.

The heat and smoke of the dimly lit bar assaulted their senses as harshly as the loud music. Despite the din, Harry could still hear the usual murmuring as he was recognized. A darker, unusual element was added to it as his companion was also identified.

Without pausing, Harry led Severus over to one of the tables beside the dance floor.

No sooner were they seated than an attractive waiter in tight fitting trousers and no robes came to take their order.

"Two firewhiskeys, please," Harry ordered, paying the handsome youth.

Their drinks arrived on their table a moment later, and the waiter moved on to serve another customer.

Severus appeared to be growing tenser by the second as he stared around the bar filled with young wizards on the make. Harry could almost feel how difficult it was for Severus to refrain from questioning his motives for coming here again.

When he felt Severus' gaze settle questioningly upon his face, Harry met those dark, worried eyes, held out his right hand, and asked, "Dance with me?"

He watched Severus try to conceal his shock. "You wish to . . . ?"

"To dance with you." Lowering his voice, Harry leaned in close and whispered, "We don't have to watch from the sidelines alone anymore. What do you say?"

"How did you know?" Severus wasn't even attempting to hide his shock.

Harry shrugged. He'd been considering this for some time, but had only gotten up the nerve to ask Severus tonight. "I remember you were sitting here watching the dancers the first night we met here. I thought you might be like me, watching because you wished you had someone of your own to be out there with."

Even though the lights were dim, Harry could see the colour that tinted Severus' normally sallow cheeks. "You wished . . . ?"

"All my life," Harry answered in what he knew to be his bedroom voice.

Even though he knew the effect he could have on Severus, Harry was still surprised when Severus' hand settled in his open palm.

Standing up, they moved hand in hand to the dance floor. The susurration of whispers that moved through the bar as they did so was almost a visible wave.

Harry laid his hand lightly on Severus' waist, and moved closer. "Do you want to lead?"

Severus gave him an incredulous look. "You can't imagine that I've done this before?"

"I take it that's a no, then?" At Severus' nod, Harry admitted. "I haven't done this since the Yule Ball in fourth year."

"Well, that's once more than I have. This may have been a mistake," Severus said, clearly just the right side of panic.

Harry rubbed his left hand over that tense, slender back. "Nah. We'll do fine. Just close your eyes, lean into me, and don't think about anything but me. Do you think you can do that?"

Severus gave a snort. "I spend most of my days doing just that."

"Stars, you must be nervous to admit something like that," Harry said with a chuckle, drawing Severus' head down so that their cheeks rested together. Thinking that they could use some privacy, Harry flicked the leather string binding Severus' hair away, and all that warm, black silk cascaded down, shielding their faces from the rest of the world.

The music started up behind them. Thank god, it was a slow number, Harry thought as the other couples started to move with practiced grace.

Severus was a 6'4" pile of nervous tension in his arms as Harry stumbled into motion. He realized that his companion was literally scared stiff in his arms. Debating the wisdom of his bright idea, Harry attempted to shuffle them along with the others. It was like trying to move a cliff.

Realizing that extreme measures were called for, Harry stepped in indecently close, pressing his pelvis up against Severus' front, he nuzzled Severus' nearby ear and whispered, "It's just you and me. Don't think about anything else. Feel me."

To Harry's astonishment, Severus seemed to relax a bit. Rubbing his palm over Severus' back in a motion that was equal measures of comfort and arousal, Harry used his body to court Severus into motion.

Closing his own eyes, Harry swayed his hips as he breathed against Severus' neck, letting the music lead them. Before long, the tension left Severus completely and he was moving as easily in his arms as he would have at home if they had attempted such a thing.

Finding a natural rhythm, they slow-danced their way across the floor.

Once the strangeness of it left him, Harry felt a wonderful warmth spark through him. Being with Severus, holding him this way, was just so right. His awareness of the other dancers and the people watching them faded. All that existed was Severus.

It took them both a moment to realize that the music had stopped. The other men around them were separating and choosing new partners.

Harry felt like he'd been awoken from a dream. He looked up at Severus.

Those dark eyes were fixed on him, intense and unblinking. Harry could see himself reflected in their depths. Nearly hypnotized, Harry watched those tiny images of his face draw closer and closer until they blurred, then Severus' mouth was locked on his, and then all awareness of everything but Severus faded away.

Vaguely, he heard the music start again. The tempo had changed. This piece was nearly hard rock, all driving beat of drum and battering guitar riffs, no melody, just gritty sexual tension.

Severus' hips pressed closer.

Harry had the horrible feeling that they were about to make a spectacle of themselves, but then the world was falling away in the familiar sensation of Apparating. When Harry drew back for air, they were home in Severus' sitting room.

At first, he worried that their abrupt return might be a bad thing, but then Severus' mouth devoured his and Harry couldn't spare the energy for worrying.

His hands frantically pushed Severus' robes off his slender shoulders, and then went to work on the buttons of the jacket. Severus was likewise occupied, pulling Harry's black jumper up and off him once his robes had hit the floor.

They'd gotten disrobing down to an art form over the last few months. Naked in minutes, Harry pressed himself up against Severus' smooth, exquisite body.

Hands and mouths roamed freely. The territory might be familiar by now, but the physical reaction to those kisses and touches would never get old.

Severus' groan filled the room as Harry's mouth latched onto his left nipple. Harry could almost feel the pleasure sparking through his lover as he teased his tongue over that tight pink bud.

He wasn't even surprised when the little brown jar of cream nudged his bare shoulder a short time later. Harry fetched the lube out of the air and hurriedly opened the jar.

Severus staggered over to the nearby couch and leaned over its back, spreading his legs wide.

As ever, Harry shook as his eyes took in that lean form. He'd never had a relationship where the feelings grew stronger the more they were together. If Harry didn't know better, he'd almost swear they were under an enchantment. That would explain Severus' completely uncharacteristic indulgence and kindness.

Harry knew the thought of magical compulsion should have troubled him, but if an enchantment existed, it had given him exactly what he'd always hungered for. He wasn't going to mess with that. All he was going to do was enjoy it, for as long and as often as he could.

He held the cool, white cream in his fingers until it warmed. Moving carefully, Harry slipped his hand between Severus' slender cheeks and worked his finger up inside that tight channel. Slowly, the snugness gave way to acceptance.

Harry positioned himself and pushed home. This was where he lived these days. His entire life revolved around these few precious moments when he and Severus were no longer separate entities, when their bodies and souls melted into this perfect unity.

Fully encased in that living heat, Harry leaned down and slipped his arms around Severus' thin chest. Hugging tight, he stood back up, drawing Severus with him.

From the shocked cry Severus gave, it was clear Harry's cock was trying to meld with that organic pleasure button hidden deep inside Severus.

They'd never done it standing straight up before. Harry was going deeper than he'd ever gone as Severus eased back against him. The difference in their heights made the position a little challenging, but Harry had never felt anything so hot.

Severus' back arched, his head settling on Harry's right shoulder. Harry reached down to collect that straining cock and give it the worship it deserved, his other hand stroking appreciatively up and down that silken chest.

He buried his face in Severus' neck, nosing through the soft, long hair until his lips touched warm skin, then he started sucking. His fisted hand and hips moving in unison, Harry gave himself over to Severus.

There was nothing like this. Sometimes Harry tried to describe to himself what it was he experienced when he was inside Severus. It was more than the sensual rush of heated need that claimed his every cell. While it was incontestably true that Severus set him on fire, moving inside Severus this way, feeling that hot body squeezing and burning him with its passion, somehow nourished him even as it consumed him. It was drowning; it was burning; it was need; it was . . . it was love.

Recognition of that emotion was an epiphany in its own right. Love. How long had he hungered for this? After a lifetime of waiting without hope, it was finally his.

That incredible warmth overwhelming him, Harry came with a resounding moan, and a heartbeat later, Severus' warm seed was spilling over his hand.

Both their knees seemed to simultaneously give out. Still deep inside Severus, Harry sank to the carpeted floor, drawing his lover down onto him as he knelt there shaking in the aftermath. They were both gasping for breath like they'd run ten miles.

Harry tightened his arms around Severus and rested his chin over the nearest bony shoulder, breathing in Severus' warm scent.

Before long, Harry's legs were cramping up, protesting both his kneeling position and the weight resting on him.

"This can't be comfortable," Severus murmured a few minutes later, carefully moving off him before Harry could open his mouth to keep him where he was.

Severus sat down on the rug, and after a moment, Harry shifted so that he was lying on his side, his head pillowed on Severus' right knee as he stared up into that long-nosed face.

As if of their own volition, Severus' fingers moved to stroke through his hair. An index finger traced his lightning bolt scar. It was a favourite move of Severus'.

"That was . . . . " Harry began, not knowing what to say, but needing to say something.

"Yes," Severus swiftly agreed.

The moment seeming to draw in around them, they stared into each other's eyes.

Severus cleared his throat and said in a hesitant voice, "We never speak of what we've been doing together these last three months."

'I, er, noticed that," Harry said, pressing Severus' palm to his cheek and then turning his face into the damp palm to kiss the perspiration away.

"Perhaps some things need to be said?" Severus suggested.

Tensing a little, because he could never tell what Severus had in mind when he wore that expression, Harry softly asked, "What sort of things?"

"Well, I couldn't help but notice that you've slept in my bed every night since January. Also, your clothes now seem to reside exclusively in my wardrobe," Severus remarked in that same unreadable tone.

Harry's stomach clenched in a tight knot. This could be a prelude to a goodbye as easily as something pleasant. He'd known he was taking his chances by leaving his clothes here and returning every single night, but he hadn't been able to help himself. Unable to deny Severus' words, he offered a soft, "Yes."

Harry felt the leg supporting his head tense up.

Severus' gaze seemed almost questioning as he searched his face.

Somehow, that nervousness gave him hope. Severus was never hesitant or reluctant when he was angry or irritated. Reaching up, Harry pushed the long hair back behind Severus' ear and asked, "What do you have on your mind?"

"I, er," Severus never stumbled over his words. "I was wondering if perhaps it were time for you to consider moving all your things here? There is more than sufficient room."

Severus appeared scared to death.

Harry couldn't blame him. He hadn't seen this coming at all. Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to stamp down the urge to shout in triumph. He was literally weak with relief as he answered as calmly and nonchalantly as he could while his heart was about to burst with joy, "Yeah, I could do that."

Severus' hand closed almost painfully on his shoulder. He looked like he'd just evaded a killing curse.

"Er, there might be one small problem with that, though," Harry felt obligated to point out.

The hand on his shoulder had to be drawing blood.

"That would be?" Severus asked, his body terribly still.

"Dobby lives with me. I can't just dump him on the street or leave him in an empty apartment," Harry reluctantly said.

"So, this would be what the Muggles call a package deal?" Severus asked, demonstrating some of the culture he'd picked up during the last three months. "You and the house elf?"

The fact that Severus wasn't screaming was highly reassuring. Taking a deep breath because this could still all go very wrong, Harry said, "It isn't quite a love me, love my dog standoff, but the sentiment is similar."

Only after he'd spoken did Harry realize that bringing the L word into this, even jokingly, was probably a great tactical error. He could see Severus processing his blunder as he stared down at him

"I suppose there is more than sufficient room to support a house elf," Severus said.

"You'd really let Dobby live here?" Harry asked, too shocked to even try to mask his reaction.

Severus' mouth twisted upwards in that bashful smile that Harry adored. "Well, not without you."

If the resulting laughter was more than slightly hysterical on both their parts, neither of them seemed to care.

Harry climbed to his knees and flung his arms around Severus in an exuberant hug that was eagerly returned.

Maybe they weren't like conventional lovers. There mightn't be any soul-melting declarations of love or binding promises. They might have stumbled into every successive level of intimacy by accident or expedience rather than approaching them head on, with intent. But as Harry pulled back far enough to stare up at Severus, he decided that he'd never loved anything more than he did the things that Severus said without actually saying.

Holding Severus' almost happy gaze, Harry grinned and asked a totally outrageous, "In that case, can we get a dog?"

"Don't push your luck, Potter," Severus said.

It was no doubt meant to be a warning, but it was hard to take the man seriously when he was shaking with contained laughter. Harry wasn't in any doubt at all that if he pushed for it, there'd be a four-legged, tail-wagging puppy cavorting through the place. Of course, if he pushed too hard, that four-legged, tail-wagging puppy might be himself, but the man's unpredictability was one of the things he enjoyed most about Severus.

Melting against Severus, Harry covered that laughing mouth and commenced some of the wordless communicating that they did best.

The End

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