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Title: Snape’s Way.
Author: pekeleke
Pairing: Harry Potter/Severus Snape.
Rating:
M to be safe for references to sexual acts and off-screen sex. No explicit lemon here, though.
Warning(s):
Angst.
Word count:
24200+
Disclaimer:
Don't own these characters. No money is being made out of this work.

Summary: “We’ll do this my way or not at all, Potter. You are the one who came to me begging, and I’ve finally outgrown my former need to bend over backwards for every manipulative bastard who happens to be clever enough to whisper sweet promises of friendship in my ear.”
A/N: I want to dedicate this particular work to my dear friend agneskamilla, since today is her birthday, and I'm hoping this story will make her smile. Happy birthday, Agnes! May your day, and year, be merry. <3 

Snape’s Way.

It’s been barely a couple of hours since Harry Potter finally lost his temper and, with it, all sense of decorum were Severus-Bloody-Snape is concerned, and snogged the utter git against the bark of the old oak that grows magically on the small abandoned courtyard hidden halfway up the South Tower of Hogwarts.

He has shocked himself by not being as horrified as he’d have expected to be, if he’d been bold enough to ever imagine that he’d find the actual balls to do such a thing. He is definitely not as horrified as Snape himself had looked. And he’s not remorseful either. Nope. He’s rather intrigued. But then that’s par for the course when it comes to him, isn’t it? He is Harry Potter, after all. And everyone and their mother already knows that Harry ‘The Savior’ Potter is rarely interested in anything that doesn’t have the word ‘suicidal’ written in foot-long neon letters all over it.

Ever since Harry’s return to the school three years ago in order to fulfill the DADA teaching position that Minerva had so kindly offered him after he’d walked away from the auror department’s backstabbing ways, he’s been at war with Snape. Truth to be told, he’s always been at war with Snape. Right from the word go, all those years ago now.

In his own defense, Harry often reminds anyone who challenges his antagonistic relationship with the git (i.e. Minerva, Poppy, Fillius, Hagrid and most of their colleagues, actually) that he’d tried to befriend the ornery bastard after his miraculous survival, but the berk hadn’t given him a chance. Nope. Not one. Not even a little sliver of hope disguised as something else entirely. Snape had never even thanked him for helping keep his arse as far away from Azkaban as possible, claiming that Harry hadn’t ‘saved’ him for his own sake. That he’d done it because that’s what Dumbledore would have wanted. The git had been right, of course. But still.

Even though he’d been cleared from his plenty of war-time misdeeds, presented with an Order Of Merlin, First Class, had the Minister of Magic himself practically begging him to resume his position as the Headmaster of Hogwarts and never even sniffed the wrong shore of Azkaban island, Snape had scrunched up his large nose unhappily, lifted it as high in the air as he possibly could and sneered at everyone and everything, refusing to play ball just because he could.

He’d donated his Order of Merlin to the house elves of Hogwarts because they’d apparently deserved it more than ‘some’ of the wizards who’d got one, and refused point blank to return to the school in any capacity that wasn’t potions professor and Head of the Slytherin House. He’d gotten his way, of course he had. He’d already become the public’s precious ‘Dark Hero Of the War’ by then and, being the master manipulator he most certainly is, Snape used all that popular goodwill to his advantage without any remorse whatsoever to get his cake and eat it too. Thus he’d returned to the very same life he’d been living right before the war started without breaking the smallest sweat whatsoever and proceeded to bury himself at Hogwarts, were he claims to have found perfect peace until Harry’s arrival had supposedly ‘destroyed’ it.

Werther the ‘perfect peace’ thing is true or not, Harry can’t tell for sure. But as far as he is concerned the (in)-famous disposition of his Royal Surliness, as Harry secretly calls Snape in his head, hasn’t improved in the slightest since the end of the war. It’s actually gone worse. And that’s really quite amazing because Harry doesn’t know anyone who would have believed the thoroughly horrifying news that pre-war Snape would turn out to be the mildest, friendliest, version of the bastard they’d ever meet, if anyone had told them such a thing while they were at school. It’s true though, so that must be what years of inhaling noxious fumes through an unusually large nose does to you.

Harry readily admits that his temper has always been trigger-happy around Snape and the fact that the jerk openly delights in yanking his chain, just to see him dance to whatever tune takes his fancy on any given day, has been enough to keep them on the professional side of the tree bark so far, despite Harry’s vague awareness of the explosive chemistry they could share if they’d ever give themselves the chance to go Va-Va-Voom on each other. And despite how dammed awkward the angry kiss they’d just shared had been, what with their impossible height difference, and Snape’s frozen stance and tightly closed lips broadcasting just how out of his depth the Slytherin had felt, Harry has absolutely no problem recognizing that they’d gone Va-Va-Voom on each other indeed. They’d gone Va-Va-Boom with a singing cherry on the top and magical sprinkles to boot.

Harry knows for a fact that Snape himself never recognized their antagonistic interactions for the badly repressed lust they were before their explosive lip-lock. It’s true, no matter how shocking that sounds. The poor bastard hadn’t even seen the kiss coming. Shock like that can’t be faked no matter how many years you’ve been a spy. Right after it happened Snape had stared at him wide-eyed and tried his best to hide the embarrassed blush that was crawling up his neck, looking everywhere except directly into Harry’s eyes.

“Snape, I—” Harry had started to say, still taken aback by the fact that he’d kissed the man stupid and his lips were still safely attached to his face, but Snape had wrenched himself away, wand held tightly in front of him like the weapon it most certainly was, and spouted a bunch of nonsense about aggression relief and the dominating instincts that often flare amongst enemies when they are fighting before fleeing the scene, leaving Harry utterly bemused. And confused. And curious. And as horny as all hell.

Now Harry is pacing his chambers like a caged lion, blood rushing through his veins like a flooded river while he re-lives their angry kiss in vivid Technicolor and waits with bated breath for the dinner bell to ring so he can get himself down to the Great Hall and see if the bastard will put in an appearance or not. The kiss should had been a disaster, what with the Slytherin’s clear lack of know-how and enthusiasm, but Snape’s lips had been so soft, so temptingly warm against his own, that Harry just can’t push away the thought of how amazing it’d be to kiss them properly, just once. He now knows without any doubt whatsoever that snogging Severus Snape will be positively MIND-BLOWING. And Harry loves mind-blowing kisses because—come on. Who doesn’t?

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Snape shows up for dinner, of course he does. The man who played double spy for Albus Dumbledore during the course of not one, but two exhaustingly long wars doesn’t know the meaning of words like retreat, give up, or hide. Snape may be a sneaky Slytherin and a bastard to boot, but he’s never been a coward. He belongs to that special brand of beasts that never fails to turn around and snarl until their throats literally break whenever they feel cornered. And Harry can see, clear as day, that Snape feels cornered right now.

The Slytherin stomps in with the sort of expression that could put the fear of the Snape on a thundercloud. He is all tight lips, clenched fists and oh-so-pale features as he walks all the way to the opposite end of the table and sits himself on the very edge of his chair. Harry looks at him across what seems like miles and miles of plates and goblets, but the bastard is not looking at him at all. His eyes are determinedly fixed somewhere in the middle of the Ravenclaw table. He seems as distant as a faraway mountain -and just as untouchable- and Harry’s fingers twitch with the crazy impulse to bury themselves in his ebony hair, just to check if it feels as soft as the lips Snape is so busy pursing into a tight, whitish, line.

The serving platters materialize along the middle of the table and Harry tries his best to concentrate on the food. It’s poached trout and that pickled cabbage dish Minerva is so fond of, and Harry is startled to notice that Snape seems fond of the meal too. The man’s rigid shoulders relax as soon as he catches sight of the contents of the platters and a small, pleased smile tries its best to pull the right side of his mouth upwards. Harry thinks Snape looks weird now that his pale features aren’t contorted in his signature unimpressed scowl and wonders how many times a day the Slytherin manages to lose it. How many times in the last three years has Harry failed to notice that Snape isn’t always on Insufferable Ogre mode? The idea that it may have been more than once, more than twice, or thrice, or even a couple of hundred times makes him feel uncomfortably guilty.

“Would you pass me the potatoes, Severus?” Poppy Pomfrey asks from Harry’s right and he watches as the Slytherin swallows the small mouthful of food he’s just put into his mouth before giving her a small nod of assent and, taking hold of the heavy platter directly in front of him, passing it along with a quiet:

“Of course, Poppy.”

Their eyes meet for the first time since Snape entered the Great Hall as the man places the tray on their female colleague’s hands and, although Snape’s gaze is perfectly blank and utterly impersonal as it clashes with his, Harry’s blood sings with a knowledge that he hadn’t had this morning: I’ve kissed you.’ He thinks. Realizing without much shock that he wants to do it again and knowing with equal certainty that, if things are left up to Snape, they won’t come within a ten mile radius of each other from this day until the end of time.

Hogwarts doesn’t have a ten mile radius, though. And Snape, no matter how adversely disposed towards social interaction may try his best to appear, is not a machine. No one in possession of such delicate, soft, lips can possibly be allergic to passion. A mouth like Snape’s was made to be kissed breathless from sun-up to sundown. All Harry has to do now is convince the git this is so. He wonders how difficult tempting Severus Snape into having an affair can possibly be, and the memory of how very awkward their first -and only- kiss had actually been helps him realize he already knows the answer to that question. Tempting Severus Snape into having an affair is probably impossible. It’s a good thing then that achieving the impossible happens to be what Harry Potter does best.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

The first time Harry tries to corner Snape a few days after the kiss, the man is in no mood to be cornered. He remains smack bang in the middle of the infirmary corridor and refuses to take any of the half dozen baits Harry throws his way. Trying to rile him up into getting physical isn’t working either, and Harry is left gritting his teeth in frustration at Snape’s poorly-timed success in developing this new ‘zen’ personality.

He has thrown away his perpetual frown, hidden whatever else he is thinking, wrestled his soft lips into the blandest professional smile Harry has ever seen on his face and now is proceeding to remind Harry in a calm, logical, tone that they are both adults. And colleagues. Surely they’re both also professional enough to put their brief little ‘tryst’ into perspective. It’s in everybody’s best interest that they forget ‘that travesty’ ever happened and move on with the rest of their lives.

The more he hears that sensible little speech the more Harry is convinced that Snape has been kidnapped by aliens who’ve taken him far away and left a puppet in his place, because if the man can sound so calm and reasonable about being snogged to death by his most despised colleague, then he should have also been able to behave towards the rest of the world in general like a normal human being instead of like a right bastard since the end of the war.

You’re afraid.” Harry blurts out without thinking and swallows nervously when the flow of Snape’s words halts so abruptly that Harry is a heartbeat away from believing he’s gone deaf.

Snape’s incredulous laughter is pitch perfect, but just a second too late.“I have nothing to be afraid of, Potter.” He snaps with his next blink, obviously trying to recover the ground he must know he’s lost, even though the thoroughly unsettling blankness Harry can see in his gaze tells him in no uncertain terms that Snape is lying through his teeth. Harry shudders at the very sight of it and wonders how he ever managed to miss how very fake Snape looks when he is fibbing. This is not the passionate son of a bitch Harry loves to hate. This is not his astonishingly clever, ferociously snarly Potions colleague either. This is some awful little shadow of the man he kissed the other day, and Harry hates the sight of him with every fiber of his being.

“Don’t lie to me, you, bastard!” He snarls, distressed beyond reason by the very existence of this monstrous thing that looks like Snape, sounds like Snape, but has none of Snape’s fire.

He takes a challenging step forwards and afterwards will be honestly unable to tell whether it was him the one who pulled Snape’s hair first or it was the Slytherin himself who started it. All he’ll know is that his hands are suddenly buried in silky-soft black hair and he is plastered from neck to toes against the taller man’s frame, growling with frustration in the back of his throat because Snape’s mouth is too far away from his. Their chests brush with a muted woosh-woosh-woosh of heavy cloth against heavy cloth as they pant in each other’s faces, moist air bathing lips and chins and cheeks as Harry extends his neck upwards just enough for their eyes to collide, sighing with relief when he finally sees genuine fire in the ebony depths that meet his.

This time Snape knows the kiss is coming because, even though he freezes from head to toes at the last possible moment as if he is having second -and probably third- thoughts, he also gasps in flustered surrender and aligns his long nose with Harry’s left cheek in a clumsy attempt to avoid the jarring clash between mighty peak and tiny snub they’d endured the last time they tried this.

Snape’s mouth is as soft and warm as Harry remembers. Softer than any man’s mouth has any right to be, particularly one who delights in being so damned harsh all the time. Harry closes his eyes to better savor the kiss and smiles smugly against those lips that have parted just enough to invite further exploration on his part. Harry doesn’t know if Snape is conscious that he is asking for more or not, but he is unwilling to deny himself the chance to find out if Severus Bloody Snape tastes like the strong black tea he is always drinking. He does. And Harry would have never believed it was possible for him to become so thoroughly addicted to the taste of plain, unsweetened, tea in the space of a single snog if it wasn’t happening right now.

Snape’s tongue isn’t sharp like a knife. Or colder than ice. It doesn’t drip acid poison against the tip of his own as they tangle in the most adorably clumsy version of the ancient dance of I-poked-you, please-poke-me-back Harry has ever participated in with anyone. Snape’s tongue is shy and gentle. It yields to Harry’s exploration with the sort of open-hearted generosity Harry would have never believed Severus Snape to be capable of, and he’s never been more thrilled to find out he is wrong about someone as he’s right now. Snape moans oh-so-softly when Harry tightens his grip, hangs as tightly as he can onto his hair and pushes himself up on his tip-toes as far up as he can, bringing his tongue all the deeper inside the Slytherin’s mouth.

Their kiss turns less tentative as Harry’s tongue abandons the tip-poking it’s been doing in favor of a more thorough exploration of every tea-flavored thing it can reach: gums, interior of the cheek, hard palate and the rest of the passionate, if unskilled, tongue that’s sharing such tight space with his. The more Harry demands the more Snape gives him, and he becomes all the more greedy because of it. He wants to devour this pliant, generous creature whole. He wants to unleash its curiosity. Wants to feel how darned perfect their kiss will become once the man in his arms loses his tentativeness, once he has no earthly reason to be shy. The idea of ever receiving a thoroughly unrestrained kiss from Severus Snape makes Harry dizzy with want, and he groans out loud lustfully as he tries his best to sink into the man, already impatient for more.

Snape isn’t as keen, though, and the sound of Harry’s groan startles him into retreat. He rips himself away from Harry’s hold and stands there for a couple of heartbeats blinking dazedly and gasping for breath. He looks flustered and flushed. Both long hair and heavy robes ruffled in the best possible way, and Harry’s smuggest smile is a mere hair breadth away from breaking through when the Slytherin’s abrupt return to his senses kills it stone dead.

Harry stares, dismayed, as bastard Snape comes back with a vengeance, replacing the lovely creature he’d been so thoroughly kissing a mere second ago with a man whose rigid stance and cold gaze radiate enough ice to freeze the bollocks of every male within a ten mile radius.
“Snape, listen to me...”

“No. You listen to me, Potter. This particular aberration won’t happen ever again.” Snape says with enough aplomb to make Harry realize he means to Avada Kedavra the bone-meltingly hot sexual affair they could so easily have, right here, right now.

“Why not? Sex between us won’t bring the apocalypse down on the world as we know it. Most unattached people fall into bed together out of convenience without any drama whatsoever.”

“I’m not ‘most’ people, professor. I am myself. And I’ve never pretended to enjoy dancing to the same tune the brainless masses sway to. Find someone else to fulfill the role of the Savior’s plaything, Potter, because I’m not interested.”

Snape’s disgusted scorn towards the short-lived sexual affair he’s just offered him hits Harry smack bang in the middle of his solar plexus. He recoils, thoroughly horrified at his own thoughtlessness when it comes to this man who, to his knowledge, has never been on friendly terms with the word ‘casual’ and his green eyes flash guiltily as he looks right into Snape’s. The knowledge that he wants something from the Slytherin that he is used to getting from people who enjoy playing the field hits him like a ton of bricks along with the realization that this man of harsh words and clumsy lips has probably never played the field in his life. He wonders how many people Snape has even kissed and suspects he could probably count them with the fingers of one hand.

Snape has a right to say no. He has a right to want things that aren’t easy and keep stubborn hold of the rather naive illusion that life will give him the chance to settle for gold one day. Harry used to be like that, ages ago, and even though his post-war fame turned him into the kind of jaded beast who honestly believes those dreams are for little kids, Harry looks into the unyielding eyes of this man who won’t have him, who doesn’t want to be his ‘plaything,’ and comes to the unsettling conclusion that anyone willing to settle for so small a piece of Severus Snape doesn’t deserve the git at all. Snape may come across as harsher than the glaciers of the Arctic, but he is not a machine. He is a fucking human being with needs and dreams and a too-tender heart to protect. He is protecting it right now. From Harry himself, of all people, and that knowledge slams into him with enough force to make him stumble backwards.

“Fine. You’re not interested. I’ve got it.” He agrees hoarsely, because that’s the only decent thing he can do. And although his heart doesn’t break when Snape nods and stalks rigidly away, his hopes for a slightly less lonely future do. Not all sexual affairs are shallow things, after all. And even if he doesn’t particularly like Snape most of the time, he certainly respects him. Harry has always been aware of the fact that Snape is the bravest man he has ever known. Now he knows something else, too: Snape is a gift who is afraid of giving himself away. He wonders who the hell is responsible for teaching such a man to protect himself so fiercely and the suspicion that it was probably his own father or, even worse, his mother doesn’t sit well on his shoulders.

“I won’t be the next Potter to try his hand at breaking you, Snape.” He vows softly under his breath, and even though the silent corridor is hardly the appropriate witness to magically anchor that promise, Harry feels bound by his words. He’ll back right off and let the Head of Slytherin be. He’s got nothing worth to offer the man anyway, and it’s not as if Snape will ever trust him enough to accept him, even if he did. He’s going back to his clubs and his one night stands. Those have always been enough to scratch his itches and he’s certain they’ll continue to do so without a hitch. He is done with Severus Snape. The man is all but forbidden, no matter how soft his lips happen to be. Or how mind-blowing the sex between them could have been. One can only have mid-blowing sex with the willing, anyway.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

The problem with forbidden things, Harry has found, is that your own knowledge of how out of your grasp they actually are makes them more alluring to your senses than anything that’s within reach. He descends on his usual clubs like a ravenous wolf on the prowl, finds himself lovely companions willing to suck his cock until come drips out of their ears without any drama whatsoever, and all he can think as they eagerly service him is that their lips aren’t as soft as Severus Bloody Snape’s.

The first time Harry wakes up after a club crawl hard like a rock from a dream in which he’d just managed to pin Snape against the door of his own classroom, Harry realizes he is in trouble. He wanks furiously to a conjured image of black eyes, lanky hair and a thoroughly unimpressed smirk. And, when he comes harder than he has managed to do in the last four weeks straight, his intrinsic self-honesty forces him to admit what he’s known from the beginning: he is trying to cover the brightness of the sun with the tip of his index finger, and he’s barely managing to do it. He doesn’t want gorgeous strangers with enough bedroom skills to pass for professional whores. He wants clumsy, snarky and not interested at all.
Dear Merlin… I want what I can not have.’

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Knowing what you want may be fine and dandy when you finally decide on your career of choice, or your dream job, or even what brand of Hangover Potion works best for you, but it sure sucks balls when you know who it is you want and also that you can not have him. Hermione often claims that Harry is wrong about it, that knowing what he wants would be deeply fulfilling on an emotional level and that if he figures out what that is he’ll grow tired of his meaningless relationships in the blink of an eye, but then Hermione settled on Ron when they were still kids and was lucky enough to have her feelings reciprocated, so she has little to no understanding of how heartbreaking serial dating can be. Of how much every failure eats away at your confidence. Of how confused and insecure in your own ability to judge a prospective partner’s character you grow after one too many romantic blows.

Harry’s heart is a daft bugger who never seems to have a fucking clue about what the hell it wants, anyway. So far it has led him to both Cho and Ginny, who weren’t even the right gender for him, and then dropped him in the clutches of the likes of Blaize Zabini and Ernie Mcmillan, who used him for his fame, money and connections before leaving him in the lurch.

It comes then as no surprise that Harry isn’t willing to trust his inexplicable new fondness for Severus ‘The Berk’ Snape in any shape or form. So even though the dreams continue to torture him and he is developing an unhealthy obsession with catching sight of not-bastard Snape that’s turning his life upside down, he tells himself firmly that he’s felt the weird butterfly thing in his tummy many times before and it’s never done him any good. It’s never been real, either.

It’s not until Skeeter decides to write an article about the ‘suspicious’ increase in his clubbing activity that Harry finally realizes how truly buggered he is. Skeeter’s article comes with picture after picture of Harry’s recent conquests in order to better support her wild claim that he is developing ‘a type.’ The embarrassing thing is that he is, and he’d have never even noticed it on his own, but it’s right there plastered all over The Prophet for the entire world to see. Harry smiling at one tall, dark haired wizard after another. All of them slender and fine-boned. All of them a shadow of the forbidding creature who haunts his dreams while asleep and his professional existence while awake. All of them a stand in for Severus Bloody Snape.

Whether Snape makes the connection between himself and Harry’s ‘type’ Harry can’t tell with certainty, but he calls him into his office claiming that Minerva has tasked him with the distasteful chore of calling Harry up on his failure to keep his sexual escapades ‘private.’
“I don’t see why she believes herself entitled to poke her nose into what I do in my spare time, or force you to do it on her behalf, for that matter. My clubbing habits aren’t even remotely linked to my lesson plans or the test results of my students, Snape.”

“Your reputation as a libertine could taint her admirable record in choosing her teachers with care, though. Albus may have had enough power over both the ministry and the school’s board to hire as many werewolves and would-be-assassins as he wanted, but Minerva doesn’t have the same sort of influence.”

Harry may lust after the bastard, but that dig against Remus is simply more than he can bear. He lunges forwards in his chair, barely holding onto his temper, and snarls through gritted teeth:
“Leave Remus Lupin out of this, for Merlin’s sake! He’s been dead for ages already. You can call me a slut all you want, but leave him the hell out of this.”

Snape has the grace to look uncomfortable as he sits ram-rod straight in his high-backed chair. The small silence that follows Harry’s outburst pulses with about a million things that neither of them has ever bothered to get off their chests and Harry knows without a shadow of a doubt that they should never air them. Hatred… Snape still hates his father with a passion. His godfather and the rest of that merry band of troublemakers, too. Snape once loved his mother to distraction and she rejected him in the most painful way. Snape’s entire life has probably been derailed by the actions of the people responsible for Harry’s very existence and, even though most of them didn’t live long enough for Harry to meet them properly, Snape has always considered him the embodiment of each and every one of them and acted accordingly. Snape decided to hate him before he’d even set eyes on him, and Harry hadn’t bothered to wonder why, he’d just paid the berk back in kind and has continued to do so, no matter the circumstances. He has given Snape hate for hate. Blow for blow. Refusal to have faith for refusal to be understanding. And he’s tired of it all.

“It was never my intention to either sully the memory of a beloved mentor or call you a slut. That was unprofessional of me and I apologize, professor Potter.” Snape says, and Harry’s anger deflates so fast he feels dizzy with the speed of it.

“You didn’t really call me a slut.” Harry admits with badly hidden rancor. “You haven’t really said a single thing about that awful article. I was expecting some sort of ribbing, but you’ve been awfully quiet about it.”

“Yet here you are, listening to my rather clumsy version of the keep-your-libido-under-control-for-the-sake-of-the-school’s-reputation speech.”

Harry would have laughed at that point if it had been Ron in front of him. Or Neville. Or any number of people with whom he’s shared a few laughs along the years. He’s never laughed with Snape, though, and he doesn’t know if such attempt at complicity will be welcome, no matter how much he wants to go for it, so he bites his bottom lip and tries his best not to think about other things Snape does clumsily too.
“Why didn’t Minerva give it to me herself? This particular lecture would have been pretty mortifying coming from her.”

“She felt it would be indelicate of her to berate a male coworker thus.”

“Dumbledore wouldn’t have cared about that.”

“Minerva is not Albus, Potter.” Snape says rigidly and Harry feels like kicking himself in the arse from bringing the dead Headmaster into the first reasonably friendly conversation he’s ever had with the git.

“I didn’t mean to disrespect either of them. I just—“

“The differences between them are not a bad thing, professor.”

“You must miss him, though. Just like I miss Siriu—er—everyone who died.”

Snape’s eyebrow shoots up towards his hairline and he stares at Harry incredulously, clearly taken aback by the turn the conversation is taking. Harry feels himself blush a fiery red but refuses to feel cowed. This man, or the one he turned into when Harry kissed him, keeps haunting his dreams and he has been daft enough to attempt to replace him with a dozen fucking strangers without even realizing he’s been doing so. Maybe Snape isn’t interested but, by Merlin, Harry is. And maybe it’s time he tries to find out if they can ever be civil towards one another at the very least. Friendship may be a long shot for them right now, but Harry would gladly put in the work to get them there if the berk gives him a chance.

“They are just dead, they’re not unreachable, Potter. Merlin knows Albus’ portrait bothers me more now than he ever did while alive.” Snape says after one of the longest silences of Harry’s life, and Harry knows he could bristle at the man’s lack of tact and remind him that there are no magical portraits of Sirius, or his parents for that matter, but as he stares into the Slytherin’s dark eyes something warm and patient and strangely akin to protectiveness blossoms within him as he finally discovers exactly what it was that Dumbledore saw in the git. Snape isn’t trying to be harsh or rub Harry’s nose in the fact that he has no decent post-death connexion to his loved ones. On the contrary, Snape has just opened up the smallest tenth of an inch. He’s attempting to ‘connect’ and is too clumsy to manage the task successfully without help.

Harry allows himself to smile without malice or smugness or vicious triumph at his colleague for what feels like the first time in his entire life and mutters half-jokingly:
“I don’t see where that geezer finds the time to pester you when he is so busy pestering me. Do you know if it’s possible to strangle a portrait? I’ve tried throwing my dirty socks at him, but it doesn’t deter him.”

Snape’s laughter is a deep, masculine sound that seems to surprise his owner as much as it surprises Harry. He stares at the delicate pink hue that genuine mirth brings to Snape’s pale complexion and sighs inwardly, already certain that the sound of Snape’s laughter, along with the rosy flush currently making the Slytherin look far lovelier than Harry ever thought he’d look, will become prominent features in his recurring dreams of snarky, dark haired lovers with petal-soft lips.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

It’s about two weeks after Snape’s ‘please, keep it in your pants, Potter’ lecture that Harry finally gathers enough courage to invite the man to a pint down at Rosmerta’s. Snape takes one look at his tight jeans and ‘pulling’ green t-shirt and shots him down in flames with a perfectly polite: “No, thank you, professor Potter.”

Harry takes a deep breath and tries not to puff up like an affronted cat or worse, snarl something unforgivable in response to that blunt rejection. The brief instant of communion they’d shared in Snape’s office seems to have been a one time thing, despite Harry’s numerous attempts to engage his surliest colleague in casual conversation over the past fourteen days. Snape isn’t the most trusting soul out there and he invariably brings Harry’s tentative approaches to an abrupt halt with one sarcastic remark or another. Harry knows the man has plenty of reasons to be wary of his intentions, what with their decades-long animosity and all that, but he’s genuinely trying to get closer with no underhanded agenda whatsoever and the Slytherin’s constant brush-offs are starting to stick in his craw.

“Why the hell not?” He growls before he thinks better of it, and Snape’s already tall enough body not only snaps to full attention but becomes as closed up as a clam.

“I believe we’ve already had this conversation. Now, if you would excuse me, I was on my way to my monthly meeting with Madame Pomfrey.”

“I wasn’t hitting on you, you know? You said no and I backed right off. I’m never so short on sex partners that I have to bother men who are not interested.”

Shockingly, Snape doesn’t rip him a new one for that arrogant statement. He hums softly in the back of his throat and rakes Harry from head to toes with a bemused expression before asking him point blank:
“What are you short on, then, Potter?”

“Friends.” Harry says instantly, knowing that’s the only answer that might sway the snarky bastard towards giving him the time of day. It helps that it’s the truth, too. Not the whole truth, of course, but then Snape doesn’t really need to know that Harry is crushing on his bloody soft lips something fierce, does he?

“I know for a fact that you have plenty of those.”

“Groupies are not friends, Snape. And none of my real ones are near.”

“Distance is rarely a problem when one has the ability to Apparate and the wonder that is the Floo connexion at the tips of one’s fingers.”

Harry can read the upcoming dismissal in every single inch of Snape’s body. He can see it in the distant look that’s starting to take over the man’s short-lived curiosity and the barely there tap of the tip of his right boot against the floor. He knows he’s about to be reminded that Snape is short on time and then be sent on his way with some nasty remark about going the distance for his friends, if he values them so much, or something equally harsh. Harry has spent enough time wrestling with his newly minted obsession with this bastard to understand that he can’t possibly let the Slytherin dismiss him again out of hand. He’ll feel honor bound to stay away then, and that will only make his current preoccupation with the git worse. Better to get closer now and learn that Snape isn’t all that different from the man Harry has always suspected him to be. This creepy infatuation he’s got going will die of natural causes then, and he’ll be free to go back to his pre-crush existence.

“My friends are all married now. They have children and pets and homey lives I feel terrible for disrupting whenever I visit them. I’m all alone even when I’m among them and it’s the same here. I’m the youngest professor at Hogwarts and I’m—lonely. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a pretty welcoming bunch, and everyone does their best to include me in everything they do, but I’m not yet ready to settle for magical crosswords, nightcaps and philosophical chats about the meaning of everything.”

Snape blinks owlishly, clearly astonished by his unsolicited disclosure, but bursts into neither evil laughter nor malicious scoffing. He seems frozen, caught halfway between his desire to send Harry as far away as possible and the second thoughts he is having but doesn’t wish to contemplate. Harry knows he’s hit a nerve when the alarm Snape must have set on is wand to remind him of his upcoming meeting goes off and the git doesn’t use it as a excuse to push past him in a whirl of black robes, so he takes a steadying breath and prepares himself to do the one thing Gryffindors are positively terrified of doing: presenting their necks submissively to an adversary.
“Come on, Snape. Please. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You were the youngest professor at Hogwarts for a very long time.”

Snape swallows way too hard to be unaffected by his soft-toned plea and Harry knows there and then that he’s going to get his way. He’s not expecting sunshine and flowers, not from Snape of all people, but he’s not expecting the outright challenge that comes with the man’s capitulation, either:
“We’ll do this my way or not at all, Potter. You are the one who came to me begging, and I’ve finally outgrown my former need to bend over backwards for every manipulative bastard who happens to be clever enough to whisper sweet promises of friendship in my ear.”

Harry’s pride stings like a dying thing that’s being stabbed right through the heart by a foot-long wasp. His fingers curl into a pair of tight fists and he’s a hair’s breadth away from punching the bastard’s nose all the way to the other side of his skull when the small smirk Snape is trying to conceal helps him rein his flaring temper in.

Harry feels like kicking himself in the arse for being so dammed gullible when it comes to this wanker. He knows that Snape is a cunning Slytherin. Knows the man enjoys using that sharp tongue of his to drive people away and still he’d have fallen for the berk’s line if it hadn’t been for that barely there smirk. Harry is not going to play ball, though. He’s seen something in Snape, something other than bastardy behavior and unprovoked malice. He’s seen the smallest gleam of gold buried somewhere under layer upon layer of prickly thorns and obnoxious verbal challenges. He wants to see it again, find out if what he thinks he saw was a mirage or some sort of wondrous treasure, and he knows he’ll never be given another chance to find out, if he squanders this one away. So he pushes his anger away, turns his back on his frustration, tells his pride to fucking suck it and smiles with as much gratefulness as he can manage without chocking to death before replying:
“Your way it is then, Snape. Thank you.”

Snape flinches where he stands, having obviously expected a very different response, and has the grace to look as if he’s swallowed a lemon. Harry counts it as a win, even though it doesn’t really feel like one. Not yet.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Snape’s way is more or less like the man himself: secretive and riddled with invisible pitfalls that leave you wounded when you least expect it.

Going out in public is a big no no and the same can be said for answering any questions he considers ‘far too forward’ or spending time in each other’s rooms. Snape seems to enjoy the sort of office-sharing, tea-flavored friendship that Harry once developed with his auror partner and, although this is neither what Harry expected, nor what he’s looking for, it’s comforting in the way most quiet, artless things tend to be.

Harry is aware that Snape is trying his best to keep him at arm's length, but then arm's length is far closer than he’s ever been to the man so he is not ready yet to count their ‘friendship’ as a loss. The more he tries to engage the Potions Master, and the more the man fights his every attempt, the more Harry discovers about the head of the Slytherin House. And the more Harry discovers, the deeper the grave of lust he digs for himself.

Snape is a creature of habits and he sticks to them so rigidly that, once you discover his routine, you’d probably never need to cast a single Tempus spell ever again. He’s all work and work and work. He teaches and marks and brews from sunup to sundown and doesn’t seem to do a single thing for fun. He is conscientious and stern, but he isn’t as outright cruel as Harry had thought him to be, not unless he’s been driven into it or feels the need to defend either himself or one of his precious Slytherins. That is the first discovery that throws Harry for a loop, for he’s not only lived in the castle for three years now but has also spent his school years in fairly close quarters with the git, and he’s never believed the Slytherin to be anything other than the nastiest berk who ever lived, so… if Snape is only a bastard when he feels either cornered or attacked, then that means Harry must have been unconsciously ‘attacking’ the poor sod all along. Or at least Snape thinks so, which is all kinds of sucky, really, since Harry’s crush on him is stubbornly refusing to go off with a large BOOM!

There is something truly odd about having Severus Snape serve you tea in his office and realizing that it’s only taken him a couple of times to remember exactly how you take it. Harry takes his first sip of a perfectly brewed cup and can’t help the small smile that makes it to his lips, even though he knows Snape is watching and will get awfully suspicious at the sight.

Right on cue the paranoid bastard frowns as he sits ramrod straight in his own chair, the dainty heirloom teacup he has used every single time they’d done this held carefully between potion stained fingers.
“You’d do well to abandon right now whatever inane thought put that ridiculous smile on your face. I won’t take a brainless prank lightly, Potter. I won’t forgive it at all.”

The unnecessary warning feels like a bucket of ice-cold water that someone has thrown, unprovoked, on his face and Harry loses his good mood as fast as it arrived. He’s not willing to bring his father into the equation. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He knows there are ghosts between them that have absolutely no business crowding the space that separates them, and he’s promised himself not to give them the chance to ruin this. Whatever this may grow out to be.

“I outgrew the need to prank my friends around the same time I left Hogwarts for the first time. I was smiling about this, you and I, sharing tea in perfect harmony for a change. You even remembered how I take it, and that’s something not even Mrs. Weasley has managed to do.”

Snape blinks at him, looking for all intents and purposes so out of his depth with the fact that Harry has just sort of admitted to enjoy their—whatever that Harry feels strangely compelled to be gentle. He blows on his tea and takes another sip, humming contentedly to himself as he waits for his companion to shake himself out of his stupor.

“Remembering how you take your tea isn’t a feat of Aritmancy, Potter. Any observant idiot could do it.”

Harry shrugs, suddenly feeling as patient as Pomona Sprout herself as he stares at Snape’s rigidly held frame and mentally wills him to let himself loosen up in his presence already. “And yet only you have managed it so far. Tell me, Snape, is there anyone who knows how you take your tea?”

Snape fidgets in his chair but remains stubbornly silent, all uncomfortable gaze, tightly-pressed lips, and withe-knuckled grip on the delicate handle of his cup.

“I bet Dumbledore knew.” Harry whispers because he is suddenly certain that’s the truth, and Snape shuts down on him so fast he’s left blinking in utter shock. Harry’s heart drops down to his toes when his companion stands up, walks with that gliding elegance of his towards the door and opens it before saying with a voice as cold as ice:

“Good night, Potter.”

Harry stands on wobbly legs, already certain that fighting to stay when he’s so obviously no longer welcome will only make matters worse. He hadn’t been trying to offend. Or to hurt the other man thoughtlessly, but he seems to have managed both things nevertheless. ‘I’ll do better tomorrow.’ He promises himself as he walks away, and it’s only when he is safe and sound behind his own closed doors that he lets himself slide down to the floor and hide his face behind his palms. Contrary to what he’d hoped, Snape is as different from the man Harry has always suspected him to be as a rock is from a diamond. That means his stupid crush on the git will never die of natural causes. He can only hope it’ll die through the Slytherin’s obvious disinterest. Otherwise… well. Otherwise he’s fucked, isn’t he?

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

In the following weeks they stumble along the perilous road towards Snape’s slightly warped idea of friendship and, even though it isn’t all sunshine and roses, there are enough moments of brilliance to make Harry realize he’s slowly becoming genuinely invested on a man who is still trying his best to keep him at arm's length.

Snape is happy enough to share his office with Harry, and they often mark together after class until the dinner bell rings, but they haven’t spent any late-evening time together yet. They don’t see each other on the weekends. Or anywhere outside of Hogwarts for that matter. Conversation between them is slowly inching away from professional topics, but every time Snape realizes they have something in common he becomes unresponsive to the point where Harry is forced to abandon further exploration of whatever it is that they share. So far it’s been simple comforts like a love of a good fire in the winter, the smell of fried bacon in the morning or the soothing sound of the lake’s water as the squid splashes playfully near its shore but, now that his eyes are finally open to everything that is Severus Snape, Harry is starting to realize that those things are just the tip of the iceberg. The two of them are more similar than the Slytherin would like, that is for sure, and Harry doesn’t know how to tell the git that he, himself, doesn’t find their common ground so off putting. He finds it comforting, if anything. It makes him feel less lonely and that is, in a word, wonderful.

It’s a quarter to seven on a pretty unremarkable Wednesday when Snape suddenly places his quill back on its stand midway through the correction of a fifth year’s essay. The git doesn’t say a word, doesn’t move an inch, but he is pale and the small muscle on the side of his jaw has started pulsing, broadcasting the fact that he is developing one of the terrible headaches that seem to plague him. Harry tries to keep working, conscious that their friendship isn’t really the kind that encourages one of the friends to show concern for the other, but he is not Severus Snape and he doesn’t know how to keep his worry in check, not when he feels it so keenly.

“I could go, if you want.” He offers quietly, placing his own quill beside his still unfinished work and lifting what he hopes are neutral eyes towards his companion.

“You haven’t finished your marking.” Snape deflects, failing to both acknowledge Harry’s concerns and answer his bloody question.

“I can finish this anywhere.”

“True.” Snape says unhelpfully, looking down towards his own incomplete work for what must be the most frustrating five minutes Harry has endured so far today and then making a grab for his quill.

“You can’t possibly think it wise to continue marking with the huge headache you’ve got.” Harry growls and, abandoning his chair, stomps towards the bastard.

Snape freezes and stares at him through steadily widening eyes that don’t look nearly as hostile as they could because they’re far too busy displaying their owner’s physical discomfort. “What do you think you’re doi—?” Snape starts to ask but falls silent as soon as he notices that Harry is trying to get behind his chair. He turns clockwise in his seat, trying to keep Harry in sight, and since he’s snake-fast, obviously angry and growing flustered by the second, they end up in an honest to goodness let’s-draw-wands-at-dawn staring contest as a small silence grows between them and fills with unbearable tension.

“Please, return to your seat, Potter.”

“Why? It’s not like I’m planning to hurt you.”

“I do not require whatever assistance you intend to foist upon me.”

“Don’t you? Hmmmm. Let’s see... Sorry. I strongly disagree with that opinion, so—”

“I can take care of myself.” Snape interrupts him stiffly and it takes all of Harry’s patience to shoot that stubborn statement down as calmly as he does:

“I can take care of you, too. Isn’t that what friends are for?”

It’s strange how Snape’s face fails to show any change whatsoever and yet Harry has no problem reading the git’s growing discomfort. He can read the Slytherin’s blankness just as clearly as he does his more open expressions and, although he prefers the snarkier, less restrained version of Snape, the suspicion that one part of the man probably needs the other is slowly dawning on Harry. The spy’s lack of response is an armor that hides everything Snape considers too vulnerable to share, and the fact that Harry is dying to catch sight of his friend’s skillfully hidden vulnerabilities and be entrusted with the task of protecting them when necessary is neither here nor there. Snape isn’t Ron. Or Hermione. Snape is Snape, and the truly shocking thing is that Harry wouldn’t change him for the world, despite how damned frustrating he manages to be ninety eight times out of a hundred.

“It’s only a headache, for Salazar’s sake. I’ll take some Pain-Be-Gone in a minute and that will be that.”

“Don’t try to play me for a fool. You’d have taken it already if you could afford to do so. You’ve used too much of it this week, haven’t you? Four doses in a seven day period, Snape. That’s how much Pain-Be-Gone one can take without ending up in St. Mungo’s. Merlin knows I used enough of that vile stuff while I was still with the aurors to know how it works.”

“Then you also know there is nothing else to be done.”

“Nothing medical, maybe. But there are some other things I could try that might help.” Harry explains and doesn’t give the git enough time to either figure out what he means or thwart his actions before he steps determinedly forwards, slides his fingertips on Snape’s temples and starts massaging the snow-withe skin he finds there in small, soothing circles.

Snape’s first instinct is to jump like a cat whose tail has just been set on fire, and he’s so fast when he is wary that he’s half out of his chair by the time the effect of Harry’s massaging fingertips finally registers with him. He moans under his breath in shocked relief and Harry doesn’t have to be a genius to realize how ashamed the git feels by his inability to stifle that instinctive sound. Harry isn’t trying to shame him, though, and that means he isn’t going to stand there and allow Severus Snape to drown in crippling self-consciousness when the man has done nothing wrong whatsoever. So he bends cautiously forwards, trying his best not to spook the Slytherin further by invading any more of his personal space, and whispers quietly into the closest moonlight-pale ear:
“It’s all right. I know how good it feels. Ron used to do this for me whenever my glasses got knocked off during auror training. I used to get the worst headaches, you know? The tutors kept telling the other recruits to target my glasses. It taught the others to aim for a suspect’s weakness first, while I learned how to be effective even after I’ve been rendered half-blind out in the field. I can’t tell you how many times that training saved my life.”

Harry doesn’t know if it’s that relatively private confession, or his matter of fact tone, or his refusal to remove his hands from Snape’s temples and cut the massage short that settles the Slytherin’s jitters, but Snape stops fighting to get out of his chair and becomes pointedly still. He doesn’t relax completely, doesn’t sag under Harry’s ministrations like he, himself, used to do under Ron’s, but bearing in mind that they’ve been trying this friendship of theirs for weeks now and Harry hasn’t gotten past the git’s office yet, he’ll take whatever he can get and be grateful for it too.

“Someone told me that the muggles have developed a surgical intervention that can take care of such problems.” Snape says after a second and Harry’s heart sort of melts for this man who is so very afraid to trust him that he can’t even bear to acknowledge the fact that they are finally touching. Or that something Harry is doing may be about to give him some comfort.

“That’s true, but eye surgery isn’t 100% successful yet and I’m too much of a coward to risk my eyesight like that. Besides, I like my glasses. They make me look intellectual, wouldn’t you agree?”

Snape laughs under his breath and his shoulders lose a little more of their rigidity even though he doesn’t respond to Harry’s teasing verbally. Harry smiles nevertheless and keeps tracing gentle circles on his pale, buttery-soft skin while a small contented silence settles over them. ‘This feels nice.’ Harry thinks as Snape’s breathing becomes deeper, growing relaxed by the second. And when the man’s head inches forwards, giving him implicit permission to move his hands around in ever widening circles; to rub forehead and scalp and the back of that long, scarred neck, Harry feels inordinately proud of himself. He has earned just a smidgen of Severus Snape’s trust and that’s probably his biggest accomplishment since fate forced him to fulfill the ridiculous prophecy that a crazy megalomaniac managed to bring to life while attempting to prevent it.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

They don’t grow exactly touchy-feely after that rather complete breach of Snape’s rigid rules about personal space, but their interactions change nevertheless. Snape becomes less formal around him, less cautious, and that means Harry sees more genuine smiles, hears more laughter and generally becomes the almost exclusive recipient of Severus Snape’s special brand of artless charm. Snape doesn’t know he is charming, and Harry suspects he’d be thoroughly horrified if he ever discovers that Harry finds him so, but the more Harry learns about him, the less inclined he feels to keep fighting his growing infatuation. There are worst men out there to have a crush on, and even though he realizes he’ll have to find a way to curve his feelings eventually, they haven’t become unmanageable yet. They aren’t hurting him in any way. On the contrary, they give him wings in the morning and help the long hours he spends teaching go by in a flash. They help him feel less lonely too, and that’s not something he is willing to walk away from. Not yet, anyway. Not unless he has to.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

It’s All Hallows’ Eve and Harry is hiding in his room as he’s wont to do every year on this date. Although he can’t remember his parents, he still mourns them on the day they died with the sort of keenness only another orphan could possibly understand. He doesn’t grieve just their deaths, but every moment of contact they could have shared. He misses the family he never got despite how wonderful his second-hand one has turned out to be. He misses every goodnight kiss, every hug, every nagging reminder to eat all his greens and oh-so-proud whisper of praise his real parents never managed to deliver. The Weasleys try their best, and he loves them beyond reason for that, but they’re not truly his, are they? And they never will be.

He stares glumly at the pages of the only photo album of his parents he possesses, studying the face that looks so much like his own when he was younger and looks right into green eyes that could be a mirror image of his own. He is now older than they ever were. Has lived in both darker and lighter times. Has found a ready-made family full of people who love him, has friends and colleagues and has been relatively successful on two very different careers. He wonders if that is enough. If they’re proud of him at all or have some ghostly way of knowing that his so-called ‘charmed’ existence is a lonely one at heart. He wonders if they know how much he craves what they had. Maybe not a child of his own, since he doesn’t think he’s ready for that sort of commitment, but a better half. A life companion. Someone who’d be willing to be there for him no matter what. Someone he’d be proud to call his own. Someone like…

The name that pops, unbidden, into his mind as he stares wistfully at the old photo album Hagrid gave him ages ago has the power to make Harry go cold from head to toes. ‘No. It can’t be.’ He thinks rather desperately and finds himself not only out of his chair, but also across his room and out into the corridor before he is even aware he has moved at all.

The school is already shrouded in sconce light and post-curfew silence, and Harry hesitates outside his door wondering what, precisely, it is that he needs so urgently. He is not hungry and it’s already so late that a trip to the teachers’ lounge will yield zero results in terms of company. He doubts he could stand having other people around just now, actually, so his instincts are obviously out of whack and he shouldn’t pay them any heed, only… They aren’t, are they? Harry knows they aren’t. And he knows precisely what—no. He knows exactly who he needs so urgently, too.

He stands there, frozen to the spot and shivering with shock while the strangest truth he’s ever faced hits him like a ton of bricks in the middle of the Solar Plexus: he is in love. Truly in love. With Severus Bloody Snape.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

If unrequited lust feels like one of the darkest pits a soul could possibly visit then unrequited love is a torment for which there is no earthly description. Harry never made it to Snape’s on All Hallows Eve, and he’s managed to avoid the man altogether for a grand total of six days when a thoroughly livid Head of the Slytherin House tracks him down to the Quidditch supply shed and demands to be informed of whatever it is he’s done wrong.

Harry stares into those dark eyes, sees the blooming agony of wounded insecurity Snape definitely feels but can not possibly acknowledge deep within, and realizes that walking away at this point isn’t an option for him.
“You haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve just been busy with things. Charlie Weasley is getting married in Romania during the Christmas hols and I’m trying to arrange my trip over. You know how they are down at the ministry when it comes to issuing international Portkeys to ‘a national legend.’ It’s bonkers, I tell you. Those bastards are more paranoid than Moody.”

Snape’s shoulders relax a little, having obviously decided to accept Harry’s explanation at face value, and Harry gives a silent thanks to both Charlie for waiting so long to marry his Enid, and the ministry’s stuffy department of Wizarding Borders and International Magical Cooperation for being such huge pain in his arse.

“They’re refusing to let you go?” Snape asks incredulously and Harry’s stupidly besotted heart warms at the fact that he’s at least able to inspire his usually detached Slytherin into feeling genuine outrage on his behalf.

“They want to give me a ‘fully staffed security detail’ and are withholding my Portkey in the hope that I’ll agree to let them saddle me with it.”

“They can’t do that.”

“I know. And I suspect they do, too. But they’re a bunch of scared paper-pushers who are far more concerned with protecting ‘one of England’s finest assets’ than they are with following the letter of the law. Time is on their side too, since I’m the one who desperately needs that Portkey after all.”

“And yet the letter of the law must be upheld by every paper-pusher on the ministry’s payroll first and foremost. Wizarding public might forgive its ruling body a little peccadillo here and there, but outright foul play won’t be quite so easily tolerated. Nobody wants to encourage the rise of another would-be dictator, be it private citizen or public institution.”

Harry laughs under his breath, feeling oddly comforted by Snape’s roundabout defense of his situation and relaxes against the cabinet that holds the Bludgers. “Hear, hear.” He says softly and his breath catches when Snape smiles at him in return. The world stops spinning altogether as Harry decides to forget that he is ultimately doomed to loneliness and heartbreak, and allows himself to live this precious instant to the fullest instead. It may not be picture-perfect in any discernible way, but its still managing to give him what he needs the most: Severus Snape, right here, standing firmly on his side out of his own free will.

“Will you allow me to intervene on your behalf?” Snape asks way too soon for Harry’s liking and, although the moment doesn’t precisely disintegrate with the question it moves on and turns into something else, something more mundane. Something that looks a lot like the friendship Harry had wanted at first, and it’s disorienting to realize that he’s managed to earn it just as he comes to the conclusion that mere friendship won’t be enough.

“Intervene away.” Harry invites earnestly and Snape’s ink-colored gaze lits up with the sort of unholy glee that Harry would have never believed he’d come to find endearing, even though he does. There is something both thoroughly frightening and downright exhilarating about finding yourself on the receiving end of one of Severus Snape’s rare looks of resolution. Harry feels weak at the knees and hot from head to toes as his friend smirks like there is no tomorrow, and promises him darkly:

“I’ll take care of it, Potter.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

It takes approximately one week for the ministry idiots to cave in. Harry doesn’t know what Snape does to scare the living shit out of them, but he is in possession of a battered can opener, courtesy of the department of Wizarding Borders and International Magical Cooperation with full assurances that it will take him to Romania’s Dragon Reserve in exactly two weeks time, as per his original request. No need to have his travel arrangements examined by the auror department or rearranged to accommodate the demands of a full on security detail.

Harry stares incredulously at the letter he’s just opened and the usual deafening cacophony that is breakfast time in the Great Hall becomes a muted murmur that he barely registers. His eyes lift towards the other end of the table, where Snape is engaged in quiet conversation with Aurora Sinistra, elegant hands halfway in the air as he explains something to her that makes his pale face look alive with intelligence and curiosity, with that genuine zest for knowledge that seems sometimes to be the biggest part of him.

I love you.’ He thinks, and smiles the half-proud, half utterly sad smile that’s slowly becoming thoroughly Snape’s.

“You should tell him, ‘Arry.” Hagrid whispers in his ear, and he’s too loud, too right and too close to be easily ignored. Harry decides to try anyway, because there is nothing else he can do, so he looks up at his first, ever, friend and tries to look suitably confused.

“Should tell what to whom?”

“Ya love ‘im, don’t ya? The professor. Is writtin all ov’r ya face.”

Harry shocks himself by how relieved, how completely unafraid he is by the fact that his secret is out there. The world doesn’t stop turning, so he thinks it safe to assume that the Powers That Be are not planning to smite him for daring to feel what he feels.

“Snape doesn’t know, Hagrid. He is only interested in friendship.”

“How do you know that, ‘Arry? Have you asked ‘im?”

Harry looks back at Snape, drinking in his stern profile and tightly buttoned robes, his elegant hands, his dark hair and those maddening, petal-soft, lips.
“I kissed him once. Months ago. He wasn’t particularly pleased about it.”

“He didin kill ya either, did ‘e? Maybe he doesn’t know wha’ ‘e wants. Has been lonely too long to know better, tha’ one, if ya ask me.”

Harry’s gut twists at that point, half in ashamed hope that Hagrid is right, half in genuine distress over the idea that this man he loves so desperately may have been so emotionally neglected that he can no longer recognize his own desires.
“That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” He chokes out, and it’s not until Hagrid’s loud sigh forces his attention away from Snape’s face that the giant thoughtfully delivers the one truth that makes him flinch:

“Nah! Going out every Friday to fuck men who look like ‘im is way sadder. Callin’ ‘im Snape when you wanna call ‘im Sev’rus isn’t doing ya no favors, either.”

“I can’t just—“

“Course ya can. You’re just too afraid to try.”

“No. I can’t. He doesn’t want me. I’ll lose him altogether, Hagrid.”

“But this way ‘es not really yours either, is ‘e? And ‘e never will be. Not unless ya ask ‘im.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Snape smirks smugly when Harry tells him he’s received his Portkey to Romania, but refuses to tell him what sort of strings he pulled to make it happen so fast. They stare at one another across two desks piled high with half-corrected essays and Harry feels like a hooked fish that’s been pulled out of the water. He is breathless and tense and it’s a struggle to think because here is Snape, a hair’s breadth away from returning to his marking and allowing the ‘moment’ to vanish, and all Harry wants to do is kiss him silly. He wants to grab hold of that long hair, pull on it hard enough to force the Slytherin’s head backwards and leave a mess of teethmarks all over the pale skin of that lovely, swan-like neck. He wants to mark Snape as his, brand him with purpling hickeys, press his lips against the soft mouth he can’t forget and don’t stop tasting it until it’s all red and puffy and trembling with need for him.

“Is everything all right, Potter? You seem to be a millions miles away.”

Harry blinks, struggling to get past the haze of pure lust that’s making him weak at the knees and attempts to smile blandly.
“I was thinking we should go out and celebrate. It’s not every day that someone of my acquaintance manages to flip the bird at the ministry and walks away Scott-free.”

“Forcing a bunch of incompetent idiots to issue a perfectly legal international Portkey can hardly be considered bird-flipping. Celebrating the success of such a small battle would be outrageous self-indulgence.”

Harry’s gut ties into knots at Snape’s off-hand dismissal. He is not sure if the other man feels ashamed of their friendship or has some other hangup about stepping foot out of Hogwarts, but Harry is beginning to feel like a dark secret; something ugly, twisted and contemptible that doesn’t deserve a chance to step out of the dungeons.
“Isn’t there some saying or other about how no battle is too small to be fought?

“Inspirational speeches are not only tedious, but usually quite inaccurate. I’m yet to meet a self-serving politician, sorry, ‘gifted orator’ who has ever found himself on the wrong side of a dark wizard’s wand and therefore is able to speak from experience.”

“Let me treat you to dinner anyway. You saved my hide here, Snape, and I’m grateful. Surely there’s nothing wrong with two mates going out for fish and chips, is there?”

“Fish and chips?” Snape repeats, looking suddenly interested, and Harry thanks his lucky stars for having enough presence of mind to avoid suggesting anything posher. He suspects the lack of formality involved in going to a chippy, as opposed to making reservations at a better place and enjoying a longer meal outside, appeals to Snape’s obvious desire to either keep a lid on the amount of time they spend together or control how their friendship is perceived by the general public. The fact that Harry knows from his recent observation of the man’s eating habits just how partial Snape is to seafood, and made his suggestion accordingly, isn't hurting his case either.

“Yep. A new place just opened up near Dervis&Banges. The store is so small it doesn’t even have tables, but Neville claims their haddock is to die for.”

“No tables, hmmm?”

“Nope. We’ll have to eat our portions on our way back like a couple of kids who bought half the stock from Honeydukes.”

“Hmmm. Greasy fingertips and a good chippy’s fare to warm our stomachs. I’d say we’ll be a lot happier than any kid high on Honeydukes’ finest by the time we get back.”

Harry’s breath catches in his throat as he sits at the very edge of his seat, heartbeat pounding in his ears. “You’re coming then?” He asks, a bit breathlessly, and feels literally dizzy when Severus Snape sends a dazzling smile his way and tells him with endearing eagerness:

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Potter.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Harry misses him like crazy while he is in Romania. His impatience, his snark, his beautiful, rare, smiles… Snape is probably not thinking about him at all, but there is so much to explore here, so much potion-related flora and fauna readily available that Harry finds himself constantly stifling his instinctive impulse to drool all over that fern or this moth, those dragon egg’s ashes or the strange pink-colored pollen that costs and arm and a leg back home.

“You are changing, Harry.” Mrs. Weasley says one evening and when he tries to reassure her that he is doing no such a thing, she smiles at him beatifically. “Not all changes are bad, dear. Look at Charlie, for example, he used to be so focused on himself… It was all about him. His time. His rules. His pleasure. Now he is finally getting married to the one woman who managed to teach him that when you live only for yourself you end up leading the loneliest existence out there.”

“You think I’m in love too.” Harry says quietly and whatever she hears in his voice makes her lean forwards in her chair and pat his right shoulder consolingly.

“Aren’t you, dear?”

“Not happily, no.” He confesses and can’t remember ever forcing himself to choke out a more hateful set of words.

“He married?”

“Nope.”

“Imprisoned?”

Harry laughs. “That’d make Rita Skeeter pee her knickers with glee, wouldn’t it?”

Mrs. Weasley doesn’t share in his amusement. She looks right at him as her gaze darkens, motherly concern taking over her previous curiosity as she finally brings herself to voice the worst possibility out there for a man of his proclivities.
“Is he straight?”

“Don’t know. Think so. He fell madly in love with a woman once. It was a long time ago, though.”

“Oh, Harry...”

“It’s not so bad. I—we’re friends, you know? And it’s better to have a little bit of him than to have nothing at all.”

The smile she sends his way then is a small little thing filled to the brim with sadness and pride, with motherly understanding.
“You are definitely changing. And it’s clearly for the better, Harry.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

It’s way past dinner on New Year’s Eve when Harry’s international Portkey sets him down in the middle of Hogsmeade. Scotland’s chill is nowhere near as bitting as the wind in Romania and he feels strangely welcome as his cold limbs readjust to the relatively milder weather. The lights of Hogwarts shine like bright beacons in the darkness, guiding first his gaze and then his footsteps towards the imposing building. He’s had a great time, but he is happy to be home. Happy to return to what he has missed the most, to this place where he thinks he belongs. He is meant to be here with the children and his fellow teachers. With the house ghosts and the house elves and the giant squid. With Snape.

Familiar boar doors open for him invitingly and he trots up the path, feeling significantly less travel-weary. The year is about to end and, although he knows he is not getting the sort of start to the new one he’d like best, he is determined to get himself the closest version to it that he possibly can.

His chambers are cold after two weeks of absence, but the hot water is perfect and the clothes he pulls from the depths of his wardrobe are clean, perfectly pressed and smell faintly of the conditioner spell the elves use on the school’s laundry. A couple of pointless passes of his comb through his messy hair later Harry grabs the small bottle of Tuica he has bought for Snape and heads towards the dungeons. It’s too late for friendly visiting, by most polite people’s standards, but he hopes the gift he bears will convince the Slytherin to let him into his lair and that a careful combination of stories from his trip, demands for all the school gossip he’s missed since he’d left, and a loud cheer or two in honor of the incoming year will keep him firmly entrenched on whatever piece of furniture Snape thinks fit for his visitors.

Harry’s knock on his friend’s door is too loud, too fast, too jittery. He is aware that he’s never been allowed here before and is hoping that his recent absence, coupled with the fact that this sort of evening only comes once a year, will somehow align with the stars to create the right conditions to breach this particular Snapely barrier.

Snape doesn’t open his door fully. Or gracefully, for that matter. He pulls it away from the jamb just an inch and peers through the resulting gap with a single, narrowed, eye. “Potter.” He says, clearly shocked, and Harry smiles through his nervousness, lifts his alcoholic offering and gives it a hopeful shake.

“Please don’t tell me you were already in bed. It’s New Year’s Eve, Snape, for Godric’s sake!”

Snape blinks, bemused, and the gap between jamb and door widens slightly.
“Of course I wasn’t in bed. I’m not a total lost cause, you know?”

“Good. Let me in then and we can wait for midnight together. I’ve got alcohol, and you must have plenty of fresh gossip, so I’d say we’re more or less set.”

The door opens even further and Harry bites his lip to avoid sighing with relief. He doesn’t want to look uncertain of his positive reception because that’s bound to make Snape second-guess himself, and then they’ll end up taking a couple of steps backwards instead of the huge one forwards Harry is hoping so hard for.

“I’m not properly dressed for company. I wasn’t planning to play host and...”

Harry stares hungrily at what he can see of the man and shakes his head in frustrated disbelief. Snape is wearing a delicate looking long sleeved white shirt with the cuffs rolled to mid-forearm and a pair of dark slacks that make his long legs seem endless. He looks slender and graceful. Breakable in a way he never looks whenever he stuffs himself in those heavy robes of his.

“Don’t be silly. You look decent enough.”

“I...”

“Did you know you can eat poached, unfertilized, dragon eggs for breakfast in Romania?” Harry asks casually, knowing that even if he happens to know that already Snape’s innate curiosity about pretty much everything will push him past his own awkwardness in the hope of learning even more.

“You’re joking.” Snape says, looking positively revolted and his hand falls from the door altogether as he stands there, looking good enough to be thoroughly devoured himself even though he’s sadly focused on a very different sort of evening.

“Nope. It’s true, I swear. They even pickle the stuff and sell it in little jars—here, I brought some for you because, although I expected them to taste sort of eggy, they’re actually fishier than fish and I know how excited you get whenever there’s marine stuff on the menu.”

Harry manages to bring his nervous rambling to a halt and reaches into his pocket, pulling the shrunken jar nestled within out with a little flourish. Snape’s dark eyes drop to the jar and he studies it silently for what seems like forever. He looks strangely overwhelmed. A bit dazed and tongue-tied in exactly the same way Harry imagines most men who aren’t accustomed to being thought about, or receiving casual gifts, would react to the situation.

“That’s very thoughtful of you. Thank you, Potter.”

Harry smiles and takes that all-important step across Snape’s threshold before answering him earnestly:
“You are welcome.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

The New Year brings them closer than they’ve been so far. Harry’s success in making the leap between Snape’s office and his private chambers signals a change in venue when it comes to the time they spend together.

Snape reluctantly accepts Harry’s invitation to visit his own chambers the next day on the excuse of looking at some of the heavier souvenirs Harry brought back from his trip and they spend the most pleasant afternoon alternatively disparaging and admiring the Romanians.

Snape has never traveled outside the UK, but he is fascinated by other languages and cultures. He can speak fluent German and Italian, which he explains are useful in both potion incantations and spell crafting. The more he learns about the man the more charming Harry finds him, and the torrid nature of his lustful dreams begins to change as a result.

Harry’s subconscious is no longer happy with having him fuck Snape on every available flat surface it can conjure -and some that are not so flat- so he starts picturing them in more domestic settings, enjoying the sort of things that long-term partners enjoy. He imagines them walking hand in hand towards Hogsmeade, lolling lazily on the couch while reading the Sunday edition of The Prophet, or having dinner at the Weasleys, and those images hit him harder than all the imaginary sex put together.

There is something new and desperately fragile in his longing for Snape and, as he knocks on his friend’s door on the eve of the 9th of January and finds himself thinking bitterly about the imaginary cake Mrs. Weasley would have gladly baked in the Slytherin’s honor, if they’d actually been together, Harry contemplates the fact that he is quickly approaching the point of no return and that, sooner or later, he’ll have to decide whether he is willing to move on and give himself the chance to find the sort of connexion he longs to have with Snape with someone else or throw away whatever second-best future fate has in store for him in order to remain forever loyal to this man who isn’t his in any way that matters.

Snape opens his door and smiles at him nervously. He has accepted Harry’s invitation to a proper dinner and has made the obvious effort to dress formally for the occasion. His robes are old fashioned, but elegant, and his dark hair shines like polished obsidian under the light of the sconces. Harry’s breath hitches as his green eyes rake the slender figure before him from head to toes.

“You scrub up rather well, Snape.” He says softly and is thoroughly pleased with himself when the panic that fills his companion’s gaze dissolves into long-suffering amusement and the man rolls his eyes.

“Of course I do. I’m a veritable thinking, walking, talking dream of gorgeous masculinity, Potter.”

“I’ll be the envy of every patron at Le Noir, then.” Harry teases him, resisting the impulse to offer his arm as he’d do with any other man. This isn’t a date, no matter how much he wishes it could be, and he’s worked too hard to get them to this point to risk ruining their evening with such an openly romantic gesture.

“You mean you’d be their laughing stock, don’t you? What on Earth are you doing anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense to celebrate my birthday here, where no one will ever mock you for hanging out with an old, ill-tempered, curmudgeon and save the posh restaurant experience for one of your usual boy-toys?”

“None of my boy-toys could possibly take your place. They’d probably appreciate the posh restaurant a lot more than you will, but I’d enjoy their company significantly less. I’m not afraid of being seen with you. Whoever wants to mock me for it can go ahead and jump off the closest cliff for all I care. I wasn’t born to impress anyone but myself. And maybe you. So why should I let anybody else’s opinion bother me?”

Snape comes to a standstill in the middle of the dungeons corridor, forcing Harry to come to a stop too. They stare at one another in the growing silence and, although the light coming off the sconces isn’t good enough for him to be absolutely sure that he is seeing it, Harry thinks Snape is looking at him with something very similar to either gratitude or growing affection. Maybe even a combination of the two.

“Acceptance. That’s the one gift most friends of mine have always failed to grant me. You’ve just joined a very small circle of people indeed, Potter.” Snape tells him softly and Harry hasn’t yet grown deaf enough that he can’t hear the deep emotion that taints his gorgeous voice. He closes the small distance between their bodies and dares to lift himself up on tiptoes in order to place the softest, ever, kiss on his love’s cheek.

“I gave you that gift a while back, but happy birthday nevertheless, my dearest friend.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Harry has just come out of the shower and is about to cast his usual drying charm over goosepimpling skin when he catches sight of the green and purple rash between his toes. He freezes atop his bathmat, chest suddenly tight with the realization that the tiredness he has been ignoring lately, along with the infrequent bouts of dizziness he’d been attributing to his inexplicably dwindling appetite have now a perfect explanation.

He casts the drying charm, closes his eyes, counts to about twenty and then opens them again, looking down at his feet in the irrational hope that the green tinge may no longer be there. It is. Of course it is. And he now has no other option but to square his shoulders and admit to himself that he knows exactly what this is. Knows how it managed to enter the school’s grounds and that it may have, by now, already started to affect any of the people he has exchanged more than three sentences with since his return from Romania. ‘Dragon Pox… Dear Merlin! I’ve brought the Dragon Pox into Hogwarts.’

Harry remembers very little after contacting the infirmary. Everything is a blur of concerned whispers, spiking temperature, spreading rash and the most terrible aching in his gut and muscles and bones he’s ever experienced. He sweats and shivers, feels cold and hot in never ending cycles that leave him exhausted before he sneezes his brains out in relentless showers of sparks so bright that they make his eyes water. His hair is drenched. His throat is raw. His stomach roils. And he aches and aches and aches so much he’d gladly walk out of his own skin if only he knew how.

His head feels woozy and he’s forgotten what bloody day it is, but he tells himself he must not snap at whoever keeps demanding he opens his mouth and swallow one vile thing after another or pokes him constantly, nagging him to turn this way or that in order to smear some nastily smelling cream that itches like hell all over him.

High fever makes him see crazy things and he trashes in his tangle of bedsheets, trying to make sense of all the voices and loud clinks and sour smells that keep attacking his oversensitive senses, making him feel even more disoriented. He struggles to sit up and walk himself out of the ward once, but is thwarted in this endeavor by a couple of house elves who send him flying right back to his mattress with a single snap of their fingers.

There is always someone with him after that, be it Poppy herself or Minerva, sometimes Hagrid and, best of all, Snape. Only Harry’s throat feels odd when he tries to call that name and he struggles with himself because failure to acknowledge his friend seems awfully rude, so he gasps and coughs and sighs with mounting frustration as his tongue keeps tangling hopelessly on the despised N that comes so very close to the thoroughly beloved S. He perseveres though. He tries. And tries. And tries some more, until he is too exhausted and so dizzy he keeps panting with effort. He is hot from head to toes and his hair is glued to his skull like a thick layer of wet algae. His throat feels like the inner walls of an active volcano every time he tries to swallow but he is nothing but triumphant when he finally calls out the right name:

“Severus.”

Harry hears the shocked gasp and smiles smugly at the pale blur beside him. He forces himself to focus, desperately wanting to have a proper picture of the strangely soft expression that has descended over his beloved’s dark eyes.
“Got you there, didn’t I? Been calling you the wrong name all this time.”

“You’ve got a fever, Potter. But the Dragon Pox antidote seems to be working as expected. You should feel as good as new by the day after tomorrow.”

Severus.” Harry says again, wanting something other than a status report about his own health from his companion, but not really having a clue of what else he should be demanding instead. A sneeze catches him unawares then, bright sparks hurting his eyes, his head, the inside of his nose and even his parchment-dry throat. The hitched moan he can’t stifle falls into the air between them, and he suddenly finds a straw pressed to his bottom lip while that mesmerizing voice urges him to drink some water.

“No. You’ll go. You always go, and I hate watching you go.”

“Potter—“

“No. No. No! I won’t. I can’t. You’ll—“

Suddenly there is a hand on the side of his face, long and pale and so very elegant that the idea that he is drenching it in sweat as it sets about to stroke his hot cheek soothingly makes him cringe inwardly with shame.
“I am here. And I’ll stay, I promise, Potter. But for now you must drink. Keeping you hydrated is vital for the potion to work properly.”

“You’ll stay?”

“Yes.”

“'Kay, then, Severus.” Harry murmurs drowsily and pulls a small mouthful of water through the straw that’s still pressed against his bottom lip. Severus smiles encouragingly and his left hand keeps stroking Harry’s cheek gently, making him feel safe and calm. Harry turns his face away from the straw and muzzles against the delicate skin of Severus’ inner wrist, seeking more of his touch and smell. Seeking more of him.

“You’ll stay?” He tries to confirm again but doesn’t hear Severus’ response, if the man responds at all, because he is suddenly too tired to do anything other than curl himself around his friend’s reedy arm and hold onto it for dear life.

He drifts off surrounded by the faint smell of black tea, chopped herbs and magical fire that is so very Severus. And his dreams are bright and pleasant for the first time since he’d set foot in the infirmary. They’re full of laughter, sweet kisses and low-toned promises. They’re full of warmth, companionship and the taste of fish and chips eaten off a greasy wrapper under the light of the stars. They’re full of the one thing Harry desires the most in all the world: they’re full of Severus.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Harry opens crusty eyes to weak pre-dawn light, and the slumped form of his Slytherin colleague fast asleep on his bedside chair. His mind is clear for what feels like the first time in forever and he is able to recall he’s been down with Dragon Pox. The infirmary doesn’t look busy enough to have weathered the onslaught of a full on outbreak of the Pox and he frowns in confusion, until his sluggish brain gets into gear and allows him to recall the few snatches of information that he’d either heard second hand or had been given directly during his convalesce.

He’d been the worst of it, apparently. He’d developed the dammed thing so fast that everyone who’d been in contact with him, and had managed to pick up the bug, had still been in the initial incubation period when the testing had commenced thus making treating the illness a lot easier. A single, preventive dose of the cure had been all that was necessary in most cases, whereas he… he’d developed the mildest of full-fledged presentations.

Harry recalls the awful smell of the cure, it’s vile taste coating the top layer of his tongue for hours on end and can’t repress a full body shudder. There is water on the bedside table, but he doesn’t feel like moving at the moment and Snape isn’t awake yet. The Slytherin looks absolutely exhausted, though. There are dark rings under his eyes and his already pale enough skin could give the bedsheet covering Harry a run for its money.

Harry sighs and wriggles slowly closer to the long-fingered hand that rests splayed upwards, as if it has been recently tangled in Harry’s own mass of hair, a mere inch away from his pillow.

You’ll stay?’  That small, desperate plea echoes in Harry’s mind with the strength of a true memory, and he becomes suddenly aware that he’d begged his friend for this. He is the reason why Severus Snape rests so uncomfortably on a wooden chair that’s far too small to accommodate his tall frame.

The embarrassed little gasp he can’t stifle wakes up his companion and Harry’s throat tightens with affection as Snape blinks at him blearily, and a small, sleepy smile blooms across his lips as he says:
“You are awake.”

“Yes.”

“You look better.”

“I—thank you.” Harry answers, feeling oddly tongue-tied as his waking mind supplies him with even more memories of his time under the weather. He wants to thank Snape for putting up with him. For showing up. For staying even though he didn’t have to, but doesn’t dare say the words out loud and puts all his trust on the fact that his friend is Slytherin enough to read between the lines.

Harry can tell the instant Snape wakes fully because he suddenly straightens up in the chair and all that sleepy-eyed softness vanishes as if it never existed.
“The potions you are on seem to be doing their work. You should be feeling right as rain by tomorrow morning at the very latest.”

I can’t wait.” Harry mumbles sulkily, wondering if this is really what they’re going to do about—well, everything. Does Snape honestly believe they can just dust themselves up and pick up where they left off before Harry managed to reveal so very much while battling his high fever? ’Severus.’ ‘Been calling you the wrong name all this time...’

I need to get ready for class. Poppy should be about in a little while, so—”

You’ll go. You always go and I hate watching you go.’

“Of course. Will I see you later, though? I know you’re going to be busy with marking, but—“

“I can mark here as easily as in my office. Or yours.” Snape reassures him stiffly and Harry comes to the unsettling conclusion that this is indeed what they’re going to do. They’re going to pick up their friendship exactly where they left it and resume it without so much as a twitch of acknowledgement to the fact that now Snape knows absolutely everything. He must do. Because Harry remembers his dreams and his dreams had been… beautiful. He remembers curling around a long-fingered hand, too. Remembers uttering a single name again and again and again, like a prayer: Severus. Severus. Severus...

“All right, then.” He says, even though he doesn’t want to say that at all. And what breaks his heart the most is the knowledge that Snape’s nod of assent isn’t a cheap attempt to console him. Not at all. Snape’s decision to return to before isn’t Harry’s punishment. It’s his reward.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Fireplace light suits Snape’s complexion so beautifully that Harry never tires of drinking in his features as they while away the cold winter nights marking essays or reading quietly by the hearth. Despite the small bump they’d hit in the days immediately following Harry’s clash with the Dragon Pox, things are starting to settle into a vaguely domestic routine that gives Harry as much hope for the future as it causes him heartbreak. They’ve grown familiar with one another’s little quirks to a degree Harry has never achieved with any other friend of his. Not with Ron. Or Hermione. Or Ginny. Not with any of his other -admittedly brief- male romantic entanglements.

The closer they get the more obvious it becomes that there is something that has changed between them despite their refusal to acknowledge it. There is something ‘other’ about their friendship, moments of tense silence that were never there before. There are long looks and heartfelt sighs that break expectant silences that neither of them ever notices until the very second one or the other unwittingly breaks them.

Harry notices all these changes and his heart vacillates between growing hope and deepening despair, for he knows what it all means. Snape knows. Of course he does. And he is either trying to let Harry down gently by sticking strictly to the parameters of their friendship or thoroughly unable to deal with his own blooming interest.

The man is straight as far as Harry can tell and sexual orientation crises are no fun, no matter who is having them. So he takes his cues from Snape and they struggle together through the looks and the silences. Through the hastily aborted casual touches and little smiles they no longer dare to bestow upon one another. Every day is both a blessing and a curse because they are growing ever closer, but they’re also growing impossibly apart. And, just as Harry convinces himself that everything will be all right in the end, that he’s seen a spark of interest illuminate his friend’s gaze, the man ups and walks away in a flurry of tightly buttoned robes and foul temper.

It’s six fifteen in the evening of a rainy Thursday when Snape forcefully plonks his teacup onto its saucer and asks the question Harry has been watching him gather enough strength to ask for about a week now.
Would you rather have a tenth of something you want or no part of it at all?”

I don’t know. I think that’d depend on what it is that I want.”

“That’s no answer at all.”

“You must admit your question was a bit cryptic.”

Snape huffs irritably and closes his spindly arms in front of his chest in one of the most self-defensive moves Harry has ever seen him perform.
“Most existential questions tend to be.” Snape points out tightly, glaring at him with all his might and Harry thinks he knows exactly what’s going on here, and he is suddenly afraid of giving the wrong answer. Very afraid indeed.

Weller—as a general rule I think something is always better than nothing, if it turns out one can’t have everything. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I’ve always been partial to the nothing, to be honest.” Severus replies in a tone that’s so flat and lifeless that Harry begins to panic in earnest, because he knows exactly what they are discussing so casually and he can’t bear the thought of losing so much when he’d happily settle for so little.

“Isn’t that a very selfish approach?” He asks sharply, wondering how far he can take the conversation while still sticking to the parameters Snape himself has set. He can’t afford to discuss this openly. Not when Snape is so reluctant to even mention their friendship in this context and everything is already on shaky enough ground as it is.

Selfish? I don’t see how trying to spare—“

“Spare what? Or is it whom? Are we talking about saving time or emotions? Would you be sparing yourself or someone else? Because if the answer to that isn’t that you’re looking after your own hide, then I think you’re trying to make a choice that isn’t yours to make.”

Snape sits suddenly forwards and pins him to the chair with nothing but the intensity of his dark stare. There is a brightness to his gaze, a heavy solemnity within that makes the look he gives Harry weigh about a thousand tons. And seem just as terrifying.
“Maybe I know exactly what most besotted hearts would choose if given the chance to do so, Potter. Maybe I’m not selfish at all, but too experienced in the agony of heartbreak to allow someone I’ve grown to care very deeply for to rush heedlessly towards it.”

“Sounds like your ‘someone’ will end up heartbroken either way, so...”

Please, be sensible.” Snape suddenly begs, tone low and urgent, gaze so utterly beseeching that Harry’s stomach plummets to his toes. He feels himself freeze as if in slow motion. Becomes as brittle as an ancient shell and probably just as hollow, hardened by time and emptiness, abandoned to his fate.

His breath hitches and he lifts his trembling hands upwards, thinking it’s time to hide his face but thoroughly unable to turn the awful notion of erecting a final barrier between himself and the Slytherin into reality. I’ve got to keep eye contact all the way to the bitter end because I can’t be the one who breaks this.’ He thinks wildly and it’s true. Oh, it’s true! He can’t bring himself to even try saving at least some of his unraveling dignity by choosing to be the one who shuts the door between them. He doesn’t want be the one who lets them go.

“Potter?”

Snape’s mouth is moving but Harry can't hear past the loud ringing in his ears. He is disintegrating inch by inch right here, sitting on Snape’s fireside chair. He is cracking inside in a thousand little lines that will eventually end him, and he knows he can’t possibly still be here when he finally breaks because Snape might see, and he doesn’t want the Slytherin to add his own demise to the excruciatingly long list of things Snape feels guilty about.

"No." He says woodenly and pushes himself away from the chair, coming to a stand on wobbly legs that feel like water.

“Potter sit down, for Merlin’s sake! I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to upset you. I was just—this was a hypothetical discussion. HY-PO-THE-TI-CAL. Have you never heard the term?”

Harry comes back to himself when Snape lurches to his feet and grabs hold of his right shoulder, shaking him a little and peering worriedly into his eyes, clearly at a loss for what to do.
“No. No. I’m the one who is sorry.” He says because he doesn’t know what else to say, and Snape bites his bottom lip so hard Harry can see it turn white under the pressure of his teeth.

“Don’t be. I shouldn’t have asked such stupid question, anyway. I shouldn’t have tried to—oh, buggering hell! I—It’s all right, Potter. It’s all right. Everything will be all right, I promise.“

Harry doesn’t believe him. But he doesn’t dare to say that either. And when Snape tugs on his arm just a little, and offers him the most awkward hug anyone has ever offered him, Harry can’t contain the small whimper that falls from his lips like a tear made sound. His forehead connects with Snape’s bony clavicle and he hides his flushed face against the scratchy wool of Snape’s dark robes, breathing in the comfortingly familiar smell of the friend he almost lost, just now. The one he might still lose if he doesn’t find a way to convince him that he can live like this. That he can be perfectly happy even if he never gets to have everything.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

It’s already Valentine’s day and the castle is awash with loud giggling, rosy cheeks and coy, besotted sighs that flit from table to table like wild flocks of colorful butterflies. Love is definitely in the air and it floats from classroom to classroom, from library to dungeon, from high tower to lake-shore. Snape has been on edge all week long, all day too, and rumor has it that he’s handed out more detentions in the last six hours than he’s done in the last ten weeks put together.

Harry hears it all and cringes in sympathy for whoever has been stupid enough to get themselves on the wrong side of the potions master when he’s so clearly upset about something. ‘Me. He’s upset because of me.’ Harry thinks forlornly and the hurt of it all threatens to make him weak at the knees and bring him to the floor in the middle of the corridor that leads to his own chambers.

He plans to hide in his room all evening long and write lesson plans until his mind stops spinning and his fingers start cramping from holding his quill so tightly. Snape is in too foul a mood to risk a ‘friendly’ visit to his office and far too busy handling the crazy number of detentions he’s handed over to indulge Harry’s need for company. Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe he doesn’t want to spend any time at all with me today, and set out to give himself the perfect excuse to turn me away if I showed up. Well, I’m not going to show up. The last thing we need is to get into another stupid row.

Despite his determination to work, Harry finds he can’t concentrate properly on his self-appointed task. He is unsettled by the silence that surrounds him and not even the loud popping of the log he’s just levitated into the hearth is enough to cover the fact that he can’t hear the scratch of Snape’s quill as the Slytherin sets out to smear red ink all over a pile of essays. The soothing smell of the strong tea Snape favors isn’t permeating the air either, taking Harry’s lungs hostage with every breath he takes. No disgruntled scoffs are coming from the other side of the room at five minute intervals, bringing an amused smile to his lips along with the irrepressible desire to lift his eyes from his own work and ask curiously: ‘What unforgivable sin has been committed against the Gods Of Potion Fumes And All Things Smelly this time around and who, pray tell, is the culprit?’

“I hope it was a Slytherin.” He mutters under his breath, allowing the very same sentence he’s used a thousand times to poke fun at his potion’s obsessed friend to break the suffocating silence. He fancies he can even hear Snape’s annoyingly smug response: ‘Of course it wasn’t a Slytherin, Potter. My precious snakes know better’ float in the air, and smiles with growing heartbreak at the fact that the entire interaction is happening only in his head.

Gosh! He misses that annoying bastard even though the berk is barely a few floors away. Their friendship may be currently stumbling down the most uneasy path its faced so far. They’re both so overly cautious and uncertain of how close, how playfully or formally to behave while in each other’s presence that sometimes it feels like they've gone back to the beginning. Back to stilted conversation, wary sideways looks and the utter uncertainty of not knowing perfectly well yet how the other will react to any suggestion. But they’re trying. Merlin! They’re still trying, and that is something Harry feels the need to be grateful for every hour on the hour.

Snape, the stubborn git, is sticking to his initial story that he hadn’t been trying to call their friendship quits, that he’d been going on about something else altogether, something so thoroughly unimportant that he can’t even rememberer it by now. Harry feels pathetically grateful for the lie even though he is fully aware of it. And does his best to ignore how very dependent he’s grown of Snape’s company. Of Snape’s goodwill. Of Snape’s very willingness to keep giving him the time of day. He knows he’s already passed the point of no return, and that he’s going to get badly hurt in the not so distant future, but he can no more walk away than he can scoop the moon itself out of the black lake in his cupped hands.

The loud rap of impatient knuckles against the door of his chambers pulls him out of his gloomy thoughts and he calls out a brisk: “Enter.”

The door opens with the ominous creak Harry never bothers to fix because he secretly finds it amusing and he’s left staring bemusedly at a scowling Severus Snape.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asks him without thinking, and the Slytherin’s already impressive enough scowl becomes the sort of frigid glare that could possibly pierce diamond.

“What are you doing here, Potter?” Snape counters, clearly unhappy about something, and Harry shivers with unease because he knows the git has been spoiling for a fight all day long and he doesn’t want to give him the excuse he clearly needs to try his hand at walking out on them again.

“I started on lesson plans but I got bored, so I moved onto marking. Essays, that is. Fifth year dissertations on counter-jinxes. They’re absolutely terrible.”

Snape’s glare melts a little. He fidgets in the doorway, looking very uncomfortable for some reason, and Harry can’t figure out what the hell is going on in that clever head of his.

“Why are you marking them here?” The man asks him finally, dark gaze fixed firmly on the floor, and his voice sounds small enough to make Harry sit up straight and rake that reedy frame from head to toes, seeking a wound of some kind. Or a hex. Or anything else that could have possibly managed to even touch Severus Snape while he’s clearly still in possession of his wand and ensconced safely inside Hogwarts.

“What happened?” Harry asks when he can’t spot anything amiss and, pushing his chair backwards noisily, starts towards his colleague.

“I asked you a question, Potter.” Snape replies stiffly and the harsh quality of his tone has Harry freezing mid-step as he finally realizes it’s not physical hurt that he hears in the other man’s voice, but clumsily hidden dismay. And nervousness. For some reason Snape is so nervous that he’s started shaking minutely and no amount of clenching his hands into tight fists is managing to mask it by now.

“I heard about all the detentions you assigned today and decided to get out of your way for the evening, give you enough time to deal with everything in peace.”

Whatever has Snape’s knickers in a twist loses it’s hold on the man, his skinny shoulders relax visibly as he takes a step forwards, scoffing under his breath.
“I dumped half the brats onto a thoroughly ecstatic Mr. Filch and the other half I gave to Hagrid. I have it on good authority that its unicorn mating season and some of those prancing idiots get badly hurt when they’re trying to show off. Our gamekeeper will certainly need as many virgins as he can get his hands on to deal with the horned beasts, and I’m hoping to get about a pound of unicorn hair out of my contribution to the cause.”

Harry breaks out laughing, thoroughly amused by Snape’s unrepentant disclosure of his own self-serving nature. He extends a fond hand towards his friend and sighs with relief when the other man takes it without either looking at it twice or freezing with indecision.
“Then I hope you get two pounds of the stuff. And I’m sorry. I should have at least Flooed you to ask if you wanted me to stay away while you dealt with those detentions instead of making my own assumptions and acting accordingly.”

“Hmmm.” Snape agrees, clearly distracted. His potion-tainted fingertips keep twitching anxiously within the circle of Harry’s own and the palms that rest against his are damp with perspiration. Harry frowns once again and gives a brief but pointed tug to their clasped hands, forcing those dark eyes upwards and into direct collision with his own.

“Are you all right? You seem a bit—off.”

“It’s this crazy day and all the glittery confetti, singing Valentines and girly giggling I’ve had to endure all day. I try my best to ignore the utter idiocy of it, but you know how I get, Potter.”

Harry hopes to Merlin that the dismay he feels upon hearing the man he is hopelessly in love with describe today, of all days, as ‘utter idiocy’ doesn’t show on his face as he stares doubtfully into those ebony-black eyes and tries to read what’s really going on in there.

“You’ve got a headache?” He questions at last, already planning to pull Snape towards the fireside chairs so he can plonk the idiot on one before giving into his growing need to fuss all over him.

“It’s a mild one. I’ve taken something for it already and I’m certain a cup of tea will take care of the rest.”

“Oh! Of course. Come and sit, and I’ll place an order with the house elves then. Do you fancy some of those little salmon sandwiches you like so much with your tea? I didn’t see you at lunch, so I’m assuming you forgot to eat altogether.”

Snape follows him readily to the chair and drops into it with a sigh.
“You make it sound like I missed lunch on purpose when nothing could be further from the truth. A third year idiot dropped animal-attraction bubblegum into his Confusing Potion and the combination of hibiscus flower and spearmint in the candy turned his work into an unstable version of the Billius Fabius Geiser.”

“The what-what?”

A potion that explodes, Potter. Every third year Hufflepuff got drenched in disgusting yellow liquid and my classroom was a complete disaster for the next two hours.”

“Merlin!”

“Merlin indeed.”

“I’ll order the sandwiches then.”

“And a small plate of chocolate digestives, if you please.”

Harry calls out for Kreacher, who has followed him to Hogwarts, and places the food order before claiming the chair beside Snape’s, a small and peaceful silence ensues as they wait for the tea to be delivered and, once that’s done, Harry plays mother and serves it. Snape takes one of his usual prim and proper little sips and sighs with quiet contentment, making Harry’s earlier gloom, his earlier loneliness, disappear in the wake of his presence.

Harry admires his friend’s stern profile as the Slytherin focuses on the plate of sandwiches, studying them intently before selecting the plumpest one with a small smirk and taking another prim bite. The distinctive smell of smoked fish floats all around them in the next second, mixing in with the faint aroma of burning coal and unsweetened black tea and creating the indefinable essence that invariably fills any place Severus Snape ever bothers to occupy. Harry inhales as deeply as he dares to without making the action noticeable and smiles to himself when the thought that his room has finally begun to smell like home flits through his mind.

They continue to drink tea as Snape eats his sandwiches. Harry steals a single digestive and the merry popping of the log in the hearth fills the comfortable silence with the sound of winter defeated. Harry doesn’t know how much time he spends luxuriating in his own contentment, and he couldn’t pinpoint what, precisely, alerts him to the fact that Snape is no longer comfortable to save his own life. All he knows is that he suddenly feels the urge to drag his sleepy gaze away from the hypnotic dance of the hearth’s flames and his attention is immediately snared by the sight of the withe-knuckled grip his companion has on the armrests of the chair he’s sitting on. Harry’s gut clenches with panic and his throat begins to feel constricted. He can’t think of any reason why Snape should feel on edge, but there must obviously be one.

What’s going o—?”

It would be my honor if you would kindly consent to use my given name, Potter.” Snape says in a rush and Harry’s entire world shrinks to the size of this room, this fireside, and the chair opposite his. Everything stops spinning. Everything. And he feels desperately hollow as he attempts to wake himself, but can not seem to manage it.

W—why now?” He asks stupidly and barely manages to repress the shudder that runs down his spine as Snape looks at him like he’s gone crazy. I think something is always better than nothing, if it turns out one can’t have everything,’ and been calling you the wrong name all this time,’ his mind provides the obvious answers even as Snape opens his mouth to reply, and Harry can’t decide whether this is a dream come true or the single most embarrassing moment of his life.

I—I’ve noticed that you call almost everyone you usually interact with by their given name.” Snape stutters, and something in the tone of his voice pulls Harry’s mind out of its shocked stupor and re-focuses it on the pale-featured creature who currently sits, ram-rod straight, in front of him. There is a strange vulnerability in the depths of Snape’s eyes, a wariness that Harry has seen there plenty of times but doesn’t know how to assuage, and he suddenly realizes this could be one of the most embarrassing moments of Snape’s life too.

“I thought the formal mode of address would make you feel more comfortable.” He says softly, and waits patiently for Snape to swallow whatever emotion keeps trying to clog his windpipe and offer him a rather strangled:

“It does. When it’s used by my students, or perfect strangers, or even colleagues with whom I do not have a close friendship. You are none of those things, Potter.”

“Are you planning on calling me by my family name for the rest of our lives, then?”

The very tips of Snape’s ears color with discomfort and he tears his gaze away from Harry’s own, focusing it on the dancing flames instead.
“You haven’t given me leave to call you anything else.”

Please, do call me Harry, Severus.” Harry offers quietly and when Sna—no, Severus, refocuses those dark eyes on him and stares at him oh-so-gratefully, Harry remembers todays date and can’t help but think that the Slytherin’s carefully timed request has all the hallmarks of a confession. What kind of confession it may be Harry has no idea whatsoever. And, although he knows he shouldn’t give into hope after that ‘all or nothing’ debacle, and that Severus is uncertain, inexperienced and thoroughly repressed to boot he decides to throw caution to the wind and allow himself to believe in happy endings, just this once.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

Early spring finds them growing closer once again. They’re no longer Potter and Snape. They’ve become Harry and Severus and the change in form of address has brought something else with it: acknowledgement. Severus sits beside Harry at every meal now. Smiles at him whenever he feels like it and seems to have developed a habit of stopping in the corridors to share a word or two if their paths happen to cross between classes.

Touch has become easier as well, with Severus learning to accept Harry’s touchy-feely tendencies and returning them on occasion without seeming to think too much about any of it. Harry is aware of the rumors the older kids have begun to circulate both inside and outside the castle, but isn’t sure whether addressing them would do more harm than good or even if Severus himself has heard them.

The Weasleys know. Of course they do. They’re his family and they know him inside out. And now that his friendship with Severus is more or less out in the open they can finally put a name to the man he’s been in love with for a while now. Ron shakes his head but says nothing discouraging while Hermione looks extra-worried and everybody else whistles in mock awe at his ‘bloody big bollocks.’ Loving Severus Snape isn’t for the faint hearted and every member of his second-hand family seems fully aware of that.

March arrives with cold sheets of rain in tow, leaving the inhabitants of Hogwarts with no other option but to remain indoors and work until their quills fall apart. It’s halfway through the afternoon of a particularly stormy Saturday when Severus’ chair scrapes loudly against the floor and he stalks towards the small window in Harry’s room, staring moodily outside.

“We could cast Impervious Maxima and take a stroll around the lake.” He proposes after a while, turning sideways ever so slightly in order to catch Harry’s reaction to that crazy suggestion.

“I’ve already had my morning shower, but thank you for the kind offer.”

“I’m not jesting, Harry. I think I’ll go mad if I force myself to endure another tedious chess match with you today.”

Harry’s chest constricts upon hearing Severus’ unhappy tone and he abandons the resetting of the chess board altogether, strolls towards his friend, and presses the entire left side of his body against Severus’ lean frame with the excuse of looking out the window.
“We’ll both catch pneumonia even if we cast Impervious Maxima, and you know it.”

Severus crosses his spindly arms in a fit of pique but doesn’t try to argue the point, and Harry rubs his closest shoulder tenderly, trying to ease the tense knots that the enforced reclusion has put there.
“You are a veritable forest man, aren’t you?” He asks fondly, referring to Severus’ tendency to go Gallivanting into the Forbidden Forest, ingredient basket in hand, whenever he feels too cooped up in the castle.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“It doesn’t. I’m just trying to distract you.”

“Your technique needs some work, then.” Severus sulks and, just like that, Harry’s blood catches fire.

“I have it on good authority that my technique is absolutely flawless.” He dares to whisper and suddenly there isn’t enough air in his chambers to keep both of them alive. Severus becomes flag-pole rigid and his head swivels towards Harry, pining him to the spot with nothing at all but the intensity of his gaze. Harry swallows, suddenly a lot less daring, and his hand falls slowly away; fingers twitching into a tight fist that can not hide their trembling.

“Please, don’t open this can of worms, Harry.”

“Why not?” Harry demands tightly despite the churning in his gut. He’s now unable to take the easy way out and let sleeping dogs lie. Not after he’s already put his foot in it and stomped all over the very foundation of their friendship.

“Because you are not a toy. And I don’t like to play.”

“I don’t understand.“

“Yes, you do.”

Severus—“

You can’t have me.” Severus states calmly, dragging the awful words out into the open with visible effort. “I can give you many things, but I can’t give you that. I’m sorry, Harry.”

Why ever not? Isn’t our friendship proof enough that we can be reasonably happy together when we give ourselves the chance? Merlin knows I’ve felt more whole in the past year than I did in the entire decade that preceded it.”

What little color Severus’ face can lay claim to drains away from it completely as his lips turn down unhappily. His dark eyes remain firmly on the windowpane though and, as he keeps looking stubbornly outside, he becomes painfully distant.
“I’m not like you, Harry.” He says quietly in the end and there is something so strained, so very wounded, in the tone of his voice that Harry lurches instinctively forwards and places a hand back on his shoulder.

“What on earth is that even supposed to mean?” Harry tries to tease him, but Severus shrugs him off and takes a step back for good measure, shaking his dark head from side to side as if trying to prevent him from coming any closer.

“It means that I hardly ever waste time thinking about having sex and, when I do, when I absolutely must have some, I don’t go out to a pub and flirt my way into a stranger’s bed. I pay for it. Every time. I find the business angle—comforting.”

What does that have to do with anything?

“I’ve only ever been with women. I thought that’s what I wanted, so it never even crossed my mind that you’d set your sights on me before you went ahead and kissed me the first time.”

Harry smiles despite himself, and tries his best to curve the need to reach out once again and run a soothing hand up the rigid lines of Severus’ tightly held back.
I guessed as much. You weren’t exactly welcoming and I—well. I don’t think that matters now. Sexual obliviousness is more common than you think, though. There’s no reason to feel ashamed about your lack of experience in an area you’ve never found yourself interested in before. We could take it slow. I could teach you

“That’s the thing, I do not lack experience. I hired a man, Harry. Right after you fell ill with the Dragon Pox. I was—confused, and I needed to know. So I went out, hired myself a professional and told him to try his best.” Severus explains and Harry feels himself slowly, oh-so-slowly, become frozen from the inside out. He feels fragile, exposed and utterly, so utterly, risible. He is too transparent by far in that terrible second, fully exposed for the gaping, jealous chasm he is turning into because Severus, his Severus, has given himself to another.

“I’m sorry, w—what did you just say?” He stutters weakly, praying for some sort of retraction to the most god-awful news he’s received since he’d learned he was one of the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes, and his entire world comes tumbling down around his ears when Severus not only fails to disavow that awful statement, but slams an even more devastating final nail on the coffin of Harry’s every romantic dream:

“I did not enjoy it, Harry.”

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

I did not enjoy it, Harry.’ ‘I did not enjoy it.’ ‘I did not enjoy it.’

The memory of those terrible words haunts Harry day and night like the most unwelcome mantra that ever existed. He doesn’t know how to get past the fact that Severus is straight. That he paid a whore to find out if he’d ever enjoy gay sex. And he didn’t enjoy it. Because he is straight. He has always been straight and he always will be.

Severus must have known that already when he tried to end things between them. He must have been trying to spare Harry the agony he is now suffering, but Harry hadn’t let him go through with it. He’d asked for more instead. He’d dismissed Severus’ concerns, refused to listen to sense and now... Now he is left in the unenviable position of having to find a way to accept what he’d always suspected to be true. That giving into hope had been foolish. That, although Severus can -and is also willing to- give him many things, a full fledged relationship won’t ever be one of them.

Severus acts as if nothing of import has happened between them, trying to ease them back into the ‘something’ Harry once claimed to want, but Harry can no longer bear the small touches he used to live for. And the dark voice that keeps tiptoeing oh-so-carefully around his increasingly foul moods, makes him wonder how the Slytherin sounds during orgasm, forcing him to imagine how Severus’ tone must have lowered in pitch for another and confront the awful reality that it’ll never lower like that in response to his own touch. To his own mouth. To his love.

Late spring limps slowly away as they try to struggle their way past this latest hurdle, but their closeness becomes that little bit less close with every passing day. It’s unbearable. Simply unbearable. It’s intolerable and cruel and so god-dammed unfair that Harry feels like screaming with pure rage every hour on the hour.

The threads that tie them together begin to unravel slowly under the onslaught of Harry’s immense grief and the knowledge that he is virtually throwing away what little of Severus Snape he can confidently lay claim to serves no purpose but to bury him under ever-deepening layers of black misery and despair.

Love, unrequited, is a soul-destroying business and, although Harry has always known he’d eventually pay the price of allowing himself to bathe in its no longer sweet waters, he is poorly prepared to endure his own destruction. The pain of it is so intense that he wishes he could rip out his own heart. And the harder Harry wishes so, the clearer his regrets become to Severus and the faster the Slytherin retreats, attempting to spare him more pain.

OWLs and NEWTs come as a welcome reprieve. They simply become too busy to put each other through the ordeal of attempting to endure more than a few minutes in each other’s company, and the stress of marking at top speed in order to be able to offer their weakest students as many remedial lessons as humanly possible before the Ministry examiners arrive on the first week of June becomes Harry’s de facto excuse to explain away his general lack of appetite and the huge bags under his eyes.

In the end, though, exams do not last forever and the students’ graduations come and go in a whirlwind of laughter and tears, enthusiastic handshakes, giddy promises to stay in touch and the Seventh Years’ End Of School Ball.

Severus steps into the lavishly decorated Great Hall looking like a million galleons in his formal summer robes. His hair shines, his skin glows and, even though his smile is a tad strained, he cuts a swoon-worthy figure as he twirls Minerva around the room with his usual effortless grace. Harry follows him with his gaze and his heart catches fire every single time their eyes manage to collide. His breath hitches and his eyes burn and it’s all he can do to stay there, hugging himself self-protectively, and smile bravely through the knowledge that they could dance just like that too and the Headmistress still has more chances of catching Severus’ elusive enough sexual interest than Harry himself ever could.

In the end Harry shakes his head determinedly and forces himself to walk towards the refreshments table, already more than a tad exhausted with his own maudlin thoughts. He dodges a couple of offers to dance with his boldest students, serves himself a small plate of Hors d’oeuvres he already knows he won’t be able to stomach and retreats to one of the corner chairs. He is not used to being a wallflower but he isn’t too bothered by it either. He is not in the mood to play the role of soul of the party, anyway, and he wonders if he’ll ever be again.

It takes a couple of hours for Severus to finally find him and Harry, who has been watching him scour the room in search of him for the last fifty minutes straight, is finally in possession of enough equanimity to look him in the eye as he approaches.
“There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

I’ve been here all along, watching you dance the night away with one lovely lady after another.”

Severus pauses briefly in the act of sitting beside him, dark eyes raking his features as if trying to gauge his mood.
“Dancing is the name of the game in this sort of soirée, I’ve been told.”

So it is. For those who can dance, of course. The rest of us, clumsy ducks, must console ourselves with watching the masters and stuff our mouths with the smallest cucumber sandwiches the world has ever seen.”

Some of Severus’ wariness drains away upon listening to Harry’s moody complaint, and he smirks a tad smugly before imparting his wisdom:
“You should have gone with the salmon bites. They are much nicer.”

Harry’s chest swells with affection for this man, who is trying so very hard for both their sakes to keep hold of the friendship they’ve built. His throat feels dry and achy beyond words, but he forces himself to smile and ponders teasingly out loud.
“Salmon bites, you say? How curious. I don’t remember ever catching sight of them. Some seafood-obsessed fiend must have gotten to that plate before I reached the table.”

Severus laughs a bit too easily, too loudly, but he is putting in so much effort that Harry decides to meet him half-way, so they sit together for the first time in what feels like ages and while away the rest of the dance between hesitant bites of cucumber sandwiches, cautious sips of punch and stilted small talk and, by the time the evening comes to a close, Harry thinks they will be alright. Eventually.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

The students leave in a flurry of levitating trunks and train whistles, leaving behind a Hogwarts that feels maybe not completely hollow, never that, but definitely less lively than usual.

Minerva hosts one last staff dinner before dismissing them all for the rest of the summer and suddenly those who are vacationing away begin to pack, and those who aren’t keep wandering the echoing corridors in the growing quietude as one by one Hogwarts loses most of its inhabitants one Apparition outside the gates at a time.

Severus doesn’t have a better place to go, and Harry has no intention of leaving him behind when their friendship is so strained, so he stays in the castle too, and their summer becomes a leisurely collection of sun-dappled walks in the Forbidden Forest, early evening swims in the black lake and conversations about everything and anything that sometimes end up with them frowning thunderously at each other and other times leave them in stitches, breathless and flushed and way too close to one another for Harry’s comfort.

Shockingly, it doesn’t take them ages to get back to their earlier closeness, they’ve done all the work already and know each other far too well to remain estranged for long.

Every now and then Harry catches Severus staring at him with an odd look in his eyes. A thoughtful, curious appraisal that never fails to make him weak at the knees, that never fails to set his blood on fire.

It’s the eve of Harry’s birthday and they’ve drunk more wine than usual because Severus has decided to stay up until midnight with him and bear witness to Harry’s little birthday ritual. It’s strange to share something so very intimate with another human being but, when he finally blows off the candle that sits atop the small cupcake Kreacher baked for the occasion and Severus kisses his cheek ever so gently and wishes him a happy birthday, its also so very right that Harry feels like screaming. This is what he wants, exactly what he wants. And he has it. But he doesn’t, and the doesn’t in that equation is making him fall slowly apart at the seams.

Its around two packets of Severus’ precious digestives and a bottle of wine later that the clock strikes the hour and they jump guiltily apart, peering up at it with equally shocked expressions. It’s four in the morning already even though it seems to them that midnight wasn’t all that long ago. Harry’s eyelids choose that moment to inform him in no uncertain terms that they have no intention of remaining open for much longer and he decides to take the clock’s chime his cue to stumble his way upright.

“That’s it, then. I’d better go while I still can or you’ll end up with a pile of snoring Gryffindor drooling on your rug.”

Severus catches his wrist hesitatingly and swallows heavily enough that Harry’s mildly inebriated brain wrestles itself into temporary sobriety.
“Is everything all right?”

“Yes. Of course, but I—it’s late, Harry. And your chambers are three floors up. W—why don’t you stay here? There’s plenty of room for the two of us.”

Oh, Merlin!’ Harry thinks, becoming instantly sober. He suspects that Severus won’t ever understand why that is the most terrible idea in the entire history of bad ideas, and Harry is loathe to throw his kind offer in his face, but—bloody hell! There’s only so much charming Slytherin Harry’s lovesick heart can resist in one sitting and this one is harder to resist than most.

“I don’t think that’s very wise.“

“Please, Harry. I—I think I need you to stay.”

Harry knows he should say no. Has a gentle, but firm, refusal already weighing the very tip of his tongue when their gazes collide, but Severus’ eyes look so full of a steadily building panic that no amount of bravery can hide it and Harry ends up caving in despite himself because, when it comes to this man he loves so selflessly, Harry knows he’ll always cave in.

(-*-)(-*-)(-*-)

They wake nestled in each other’s arms like two halves of the same whole. They’re facing one another and Severus’ pale skin glows like a hopelessly lost moonbeam in the pre-dawn light. Harry drinks in the Slytherin’s beloved features and his heart fills with an ache that doesn’t cleave him in half, but doesn’t feel too good either because now he knows for certain that he can have this too, and this is just a step too close to perfection for him. A step too close to the dream he can not have for him to accept it at face value and hope to convince his stubborn heart that it shouldn’t wish for more.

“Your hair tickles like hell.” Severus tells him sleepily and his morning-rough voice is as lovely and deep as Harry has always imagined.

“And you snuffle in your sleep.” He counters and smirks with smug triumph at his friend’s outraged squeak.

“I most certainly do not!”

“And how would you know that, eh?” He teases, unthinkingly reaching out a hand to loop a lock of Severus’ hair behind his ear. They both freeze the moment their skins make contact and Harry’s fingertips grow warm in the heat of Severus’ blush.

“I’m sorry.” He apologizes unsteadily and tries to take his hand back, but Severus grabs his wrist and keeps it exactly where it is as they stare at one another, bright green gaze holding inky black until Severus lurches forwards and presses his petal-soft lips to Harry’s. Harry groans, shocked, confused and more turned on than he’s ever been in his life. The kiss is messy, too hesitant and clumsy with Severus’ mouth sliding off-center over his own and their noses bumping painfully in the middle of it all.

Harry groans, pulls back, and Severus freezes instantly. They blink at each other in a silence that feels thick enough to drip its own sludge and Harry doesn’t have to be a genius to know that Severus is a single heartbeat away from launching himself off the bed and probably off the room too. He makes the split-second decision of sending what’s left of his sense of self-preservation packing and, curling one hand behind Severus’ neck and tangling the other in a velvety mass of ebony-black hair, Harry pulls the Slytherin’s head down, shifts his face the slightest inch, and allows their lips to meet once again in perfect harmony. Severus gasps against his mouth and Harry pushes himself upwards just enough to send himself a little higher, licking his gentle way past the lips he’s been dreaming about for so long.

Severus shivers in his arms, moans seemingly with his entire body and allows the very tip of his hesitant tongue to tangle with Harry’s own. Harry meets him readily, greedily, and their kiss becomes a lot more heated, a lot more frantic, a lot more—everything.

Harry is dizzy with longing fulfilled, with want and nerves and passion, so much passion... His mouth opens further and, as his tongue dares to delve deeper, he is no longer merely kissing Severus but trying to devour him whole. Severus whimpers and Harry reels himself backwards, thinking he’s taken too much. Kissed too deeply. Managed to remind his companion that he is most certainly not a woman and doesn’t have a hope in hell of turning himself into one. His eyes open, hands rigid on the back of Severus’ nape and his panicked stare clashes directly with the most relieved morass of black-eyed arousal he’s ever seen.

“Severus, w—what on earth is going on?”

“I think I was wrong.”

“W—wrong? What do you mean by that?”

“I mean I should have never attempted to establish whether I’d enjoy sex with you or not by trying to have it with someone else.”

Harry stares at him in confusion, heart pounding a mile a minute as the words he can’t believe he is hearing try to settle over his every hurt like a balm.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’ve always enjoyed your kisses, right from the very first one, Harry.”

“That’s neither here nor ther—er—wait. Wait. What, exactly, are you saying?”

“I’m saying I liked this one, too. That I—I’m aroused right now.”

“That doesn’t mean you aren’t straight. Everyone gets morning wood, Severus. Everyone.”

“Yes, but I—“

“You said you didn’t enjoy whatever you did with that bloke.”

“Harry...”

“Don’t do this to me, please. Just—don’t.”

Severus twitches, clearly contrite, and his hand breaches the small distance between them to cradle Harry’s jaw with a tenderness that breaks him.
“It is not my intention to cause you pain, Harry. Or to give you false hope. Merlin knows I’d spare you every blow I could take in your place, but this… this I can not spare you.”

“I thought you don’t like to play.”

“I don’t.”

“Then stop playing with me. This is my heart you’re messing with, my feelings!”

“This isn’t only about you, Harry. It’s about me too, and I—Listen to me, please, just this once. I paid for a blow job but couldn’t relax into it.”

“Gosh! I don’t want to hear it. I won’t.” Harry growls and tries to scramble away from the bed, from the room, but Severus catches hold of his wrist a step away from the doorway and brings him to a forceful halt.

“Stop that and listen to me. Please. I initially assumed I’d been put off by the knowledge that my companion was a man, but now I think otherwise. I couldn’t relax into the experience because I didn’t trust that whore at all and the lack of familiarity with the situation made my usual ability to achieve orgasm despite similar misgivings harder than it should have been.”

“So what now? You want me to become your second gay experiment? You said it yourself once, Severus, I’m not a toy. What happens if you can’t push past your hangups with me either?” Harry hisses, suddenly furious, because he wants to try Severus’ crazy scheme so hard that he knows he’ll never survive it if they attempt to become physical and Severus can not take it.

Severus flinches as if stung and his black gaze grows shadowed and uncertain. He looks vulnerable beyond words, lost, small, and so very fragile that Harry’s heart positively aches with the need to hold him tight.
I can’t promise you what I don’t yet know to be the truth, Harry.” Severus finally offers. “I can only assure you that my life is fuller, brighter, when you are by my side. I look at you and feel—so much. Too much. And I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever sexual orientation issues we may encounter, they can’t possibly stand a chance against this much emotion because I—I love you, Harry. And that means I need this to work. I need us to work.”

Time stands still as Harry’s heart lurches against his ribs and his eyes begin to burn. Severus looks as pale as a ghost but he also looks proud and determined, beautiful in every way to Harry’s gaze, and there is not a single thing in this world -or any other- that Harry wouldn’t gladly give him, if he dares to ask for it. “And he is asking. He is asking for a chance to love me...

Do you want to hear me say that I love you too, or are you planning to go all smirky on me and say something thoroughly Slytherin and obnoxious?” He tries to snark and Severus laughs too loudly, obviously still way too anxious to realize that he’s got no reason to be nervous. Harry has always been a sure thing when it comes to him, but that sort of confidence will only come with time. And we have time. Oh, Merlin! I can’t believe we have time...’

I suppose I could say I already know you’re ridiculously sweet on me. I could even attempt to explain why I believe most of England must be aware of your feelings by now, too. You have a type, after all, Harry, and that type is clearly me, but I—I’d like to hear it. Please.

Harry’s heart melts like hot ice-cream upon hearing that earnest plea, despite all the nonsense that precedes it. “I love you.” He says simply and, in Severus’ bright smile, finally catches his first glimpse of forever.

The End.


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