It was just supposed to be for the night, but the Defense Conference had been forced to postpone Harry's lecture due to a scheduling error with the Potions Conference and the hotel. Now, of course, Harry was forced to remain in Rome for the full week of the conference and with two conventions in the same hotel his room from the previous night had already been reserved for someone else.
"Aren't you supposed to be in the line for customs back to the UK right now?" Inquired a grave voice.
Harry smirked and looked up from the worn, wooden bar he'd been staring at for the last hour, grabbing his drink as he spun on his stool to face is adversary. "Should be, yeah, but because your convention booked my lecture time for the same auditorium, and because Defense Masters are more gracious than you Potions Masters, my lecture was rescheduled for the end of the week. I enjoyed your lecture on how specific alloys of gold cauldrons are important when concocting different dragon-infused potions, though. At least my time slot wasn't wasted on something useless."
Snape took up the stool beside him, smoothing out his Muggle clothing. "What, pray tell, would you say was a wasted use of lecture time, Potter?"
Harry grinned and waved down the bartender for two more drinks, knowing his colleague held the same preferences as him. "The poor sap who lectured after you seems to qualify rather nicely. I can't believe the committee let him speak, he only reiterated your research from 5 years ago."
"Ah," Snape smirked. "I had nearly forgotten that wondrous blunder on the part of Master Coral. I believe the committee had been given to believe he had made a breakthrough that would further the research on defensive applications for Healing potions. A pity that he chose instead to try and pass my work off as his own, and in such an unsubtle manner. I concede your point, he would certainly have been a waste of your lecture time, especially considering he was a waste of his own." He tipped the bartender as the man brought them their drinks. "How did Weasley take it when you told her you had to stay the week?"
Harry snorted into his glass as he took a long swig. "I thought she was going to have an aneurysm, but she did eventually cool off long enough for me to explain that I wasn't deliberately avoiding my responsibilities regarding Jack."
"He's almost old enough for Hogwarts now, isn't he?" Severus asked, sipping at his drink lightly.
"Next year," Harry said.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Then why does Miss Weasley insist that he be watched so carefully? I'd think he was old enough to watch himself for a weekend, considering the House Elves."
"My thoughts exactly," Harry agreed. "But Ginny nearly had a heart attack when I suggested it. And you should be careful of calling her Weasley these days, she's a happily married woman and you remember what happened last time you did it."
Snape rolled his eyes with a huff. "It is not my fault that Mister Thomas chose to attack me in some misguided attempt to defend his wife's honor, I merely defended myself, and I fixed his nose. She was my student for 7 years, it is not habit for me to keep up with my former student's lives." Harry raised a challenging eyebrow. "You are an exception, Potter, you gave me little choice in the matter. However, this has strayed far from my point. You are Jack's godfather, do you have no say in how the boy is raised?"
Harry shrugged, taking a leisurely sip of his drink. "Not really, not until he gets to Hogwarts at least. I can only hope I'll have as much influence on him as you did with Draco. I doubt he'd be marrying 'Mione next month if you hadn't countered his father's influence so much. As it is, I spent 3 hours finding a replacement babysitter this afternoon, and I found out about an hour ago that it may have been a waste of time since there isn't a single empty room within a 100 mile radius of this hotel because of the conventions."
"That is most unfortunate," Snape cajoled sympathetically. "I'll admit I had been looking forward to attending your lecture on the effects body chemistry has on Emotion Altering spells and potions."
"And the effect they have on body chemistry," Harry finished for him. "I still plan to give the lecture, the hotel staff is speaking with everyone at the Defense Convention who was given a two room suite, since this was their blunder in the first place. If they can't find anyone who'll agree to host me, I'll try the hostels in the area. I don't mind staying somewhere communal if it comes down to it, and it shouldn't be that hard to pass myself off as a Muggle."
Severus raised an eyebrow as Harry spun back to face the bar with a sigh. "And your plan until then is to drink yourself into a stupor?"
Harry scoffed, insulted. "I'll have you know that this is only my second drink." The eyebrow remained up and Harry sighed, pushing his drink away as he folded his arms on the bar and put his head on them with a huff. "Fine, yes, that was my plan. Not my best, I'll admit, but at least it'd make it easier if I slip up and say something stupid at the hostel tonight."
"It would also make it easier to slip up," Severus pointed out, setting his drink down and turning to face the boy completely. "Why don't you just rent a flat? You have the money, you're the richest bachelor in Wizarding Europe."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Because I'm not that guy. Most of the flats in the area are contract leases, and I don't like signing contracts if I can avoid it, especially with someone I don't know; and throwing my money around is annoying, it gets me unwanted attention. Besides, you have the money just as much as I do, off your patents, and we come here every year for the conference. You could have just as easily leased a flat and sublet it when you weren't here, but you haven't, and you've been attending your convention a lot longer than I've attended mine."
The Potions Master scowled. "I see your point, and can imagine your reasons don't differ so far from my own. You do realize, though, that someone at a hostel will likely attempt to rob you, and then you'll really be caught in a brew when they realize they can't because some sort of magic prevents it."
Harry shrugged. "Life comes with risks, Snape, we can't avoid them sometimes, and if the hotel is as unsuccessful as I believe they will be, I haven't got any other options. Most of the Defense Masters who get suite's each year need the extra rooms for the family or friends they bring along, and while my networking is pretty good and I wouldn't mind sleeping on a couch in someone else's suite, for whatever reason half the Master's here seem to think I'm some sort of aristocrat and because of that are always awkward around me," The Defense Master mumbled into his sleeve. "I just can't win with these people. If I try to make myself seem approachable, then I get a whole lot of business offers, but not a single realistic approach. My money speaks first, and the only people who try to talk to me are the ones with some business venture or other. I've gotten some good investments, but that's not any help when it comes to something like this."
"That is the price of fame, and publishing at 18 on a subject that hundreds of Defense Masters had given up on as impossible. What about Master Tucker? I was under the impression you were close friends."
"True," Harry answered thoughtfully, "And I guess we did meet here, the first time I attended. He was so impressed that I had managed to prove Shou's theory on taming Red Caps." He chuckled. "He asked me questions for hours, and he's been a really good friend since, but he isn't attending this year. It's the only reason my lecture could be rescheduled, Tucker backed out last minute because his daughter, Kenley, has Dragonpox."
"Going home and returning in time for your lecture?" Snape suggested.
"I was contacted by the International Travel Control when I arrived, and what they're calling my 'little adventure' through most of South America over Winter Break last year has been called into question as to whether or not it was really for research, since I funded it myself rather than getting a grant. Until they've completed their investigation, I'm meant to be grounded in the UK, but since I arrived before I was informed, they're making an exception for the convention. No way they'd make the exception twice just because the hotel screwed up," Harry explained, pulling his drink back to him and taking a good swig of the potent liquor.
The Potions Master sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I see." He waved down the bartender, who was speaking with another customer at the other end of the long bar. "I did tell you that you should get a backer to avoid these stupid little bureaucratic games. I learned that the first time I did any research abroad. Politicians are forever suspecting the wrong people of smuggling artifacts, and letting the true wrong-doers slip through the cracks. From now on, speak with Lucius or myself about your expeditions, and in exchange for us backing you, you can back Draco or myself."
Harry groaned as the bartender finally moved in their direction. "Guess I'll be doing business with you, then, because there is no way I'm letting Draco and 'Mione control my research. Worst I could expect from you is having to explain myself thoroughly, provide receipts, and maybe pick up a plant or two. If I were to ask Draco for help, he and 'Mione would likely force me to follow a bunch of dead ends before finally letting me follow my instincts."
Snape grunted in acknowledgment as the bartender stopped before them. "Have two pitchers of this drink delivered to my rooms, put them on my tab, and have Master Potter's luggage delivered at the same time." He laid a sickle on the counter. "I would prefer if this were all done before I got there myself. You have five minutes while I speak to the front desk." The well-dressed server nodded enthusiastically and scooped up the silver piece before instructing his underlings to watch the bar while he was away.
Harry watched all of this in confusion. "What just happened?"
"I took pity on you, don't overthink it, Potter. As for the drinks, your earlier plan has some merit, as we are technically on vacation, and I prefer to drink in comfort," The Potions Master said, standing up and moving to exit the bar. "Come along; let's test the merit of the hotel's staff, shall we?"
Harry smirked and followed the man out, leaving a small tip on the bar. "You're so mean. The way the front desk works, it shouldn't take more than two minutes to finish up."
"Precisely," Snape said. "You wouldn't be in your current predicament if the staff were more aware of their patrons, and I wouldn't be forced to behave-"
"Human," Harry interrupted teasingly.
Snape looked at him, exposing his front teeth as a silent spell made his canines elongate. "Precisely," He repeated.
Harry laughed. "That wasn't scary when I was an apprentice, and it isn't now, Snape. You need new material."
"It could be that you simply need a healthier understanding of fear," The Potions Master argued somewhat petulantly as he returned his teeth to their appropriate size. They stopped at the front desk and were immediately set upon by half the staff there.
"I apologize, Master Potter, but we have still not been able to find you a room, either in the hotel or in any of the surrounding ones, if you could but give us just a little more time, sir…" The head of the hotel staff rambled in a bit of panic.
Harry chuckled. "Your jobs are safe for now, Signor, I am here to inform you that I have found other accommodations on my own. Master Snape has been gracious enough to offer up his services, and I would like you to see to it that half of his tab is put in my name. Understood?"
The concierge seemed put out at having been unable to help. "Of course, Master Potter, whatever you wish. And again, please forgive our blundering, I promise that nothing of this sort shall ever happen again." The man shot a dirty look at the organizer who was sat sulking a few feet away.
Harry's smile fell. "I can't imagine how often you've said that in your years here, Signor Posquell, but I recommend you better screen your staff for their ability to perform the duties assigned to them before giving them a job," He said sternly. With that, he turned with Severus towards the lifts, leaving the concierge to lecture his staff for the third time that day concerning Harry Potter.
"You handled that surprisingly well," Snape commented as they stepped into the lift and he pressed the button for his floor.
Harry crossed his arms and shrugged as he leaned against the mirrors of the back wall. "I learned pretty quickly that while having money and a title can be a nuisance, it comes with a responsibility. I have to present myself a certain way, or I make myself a target for the greedy, creepy, and rude. I hate to admit it, but Lucius was right about me needing those classes he gave me. I was stupid for turning him down the first time, and plain foolish for imagining I could still be just 'Harry' after taking the Potter-Black mantle. It was hard enough that first year just getting everyone to stop calling me 'Lord Potter-Black', not to mention the people trying to get their dirty claws into my life, bank accounts, and Wizengamot seats."
Snape hummed noncommittally. "I understand your meaning, Potter, I had similar issues when I took my grandfather's mantle. Being referred to as 'Lord Prince' everywhere nearly drove me insane before Lucius took me under his wing."
Harry smirked and they were silent for a few seconds before he spoke again. "So am I to be couched, or do you have a suite?"
"It's a two room suite. Lucius was supposed to attend with me this year, but when he found out that both conferences were being held here he backed out. There are a few Defense Masters here who've been trying to pin him down for funding, and they aren't taking no for an answer," Severus answered. The lift came to a subtle stop and the doors opened with the soft jingle of a bell. The two Master's exited, Severus leading the way into the corridor.
"I appreciate you offering me the other room, Severus, please don't imagine I'm ungrateful, but why are you doing this? We've never exactly gotten along…"
The Potions Master sighed as they stopped in front of his room. "If you haven't figured it out by the end of the week, then you aren't as bright as I had come to believe." He put the key in the lock and opened the door. The two of them entered into a large, open space with Victorian era family room décor. "Your room is the one on the left, your bathroom is connected. I suggest you go get settled, and I'll poor us some drinks."
Harry watched the Potions Master's back for a second in confusion before turning to his room. He opened the double doors to see a beautifully decorated room with a large four-poster and an even larger window with a view of the Coliseum. He saw his bag sitting on the center of the bed and walked over to it.
"I'm here for the week, I might as well unpack my stuff," He mumbled, setting down his messenger bag with all of his paperwork. "This week is gonna be weird if Severus is gonna be so mysterious all the time."
Harry sighed as he finished packing his things. His lecture had gone well, and he'd enjoyed being included in the closing panel thanks to Tucker's recommendation, but he was confused over the strange week he'd spent with his host. The Potions Master had gone out of his way on more than one occasion to draw him out of his room, or one of the many books he'd brought, constantly suggesting some sight he hadn't seen, some lecture he might find interesting (all of which had been right on the nose, oddly enough), and at one point casually mentioning an abundance of one extra ticket to Harry's favorite opera. Harry had been grateful, of course, for the invitations, and the meals that usually accompanied them, no matter who paid, but he was on edge about how else he was supposed to feel.
He sat on the edge of the bed and sighed, thinking back on the conversation he'd had with Severus when he'd first been invited to share the man's hotel room. Snape had basically called him a moron if he couldn't figure out why he'd been invited in the first place, and right now, he felt like it. The whole week they hadn't fought once, but there had been a palpable tension between them even during their fascinating conversations over meals. The only time it had seem to relax even a bit was when Harry had found out that Severus had never tried a burger from the Muggle American fast food chain and had dragged the Potions Master bodily to the nearest restaurant. The evening had been filled with laughter as Harry watched the man complain about the burger being more grease than meat, and Snape had retaliated by forcing Harry to try escargot without telling him what it was until after they'd finished eating. Harry could still remember the surprisingly delightful sound of the man's silent chuckles turning into a gorgeous, booming laugh. All considered, Harry supposed that it had been a fun week, despite all of the tension, but that somehow made it feel more awkward, since 'fun' wasn't usually a word one associated with Severus Snape.
A knock on the door interrupted Harry's thoughts and he looked up to see Snape standing in his doorway. "The desk phoned, they said our bill has been settled by a benefactor."
Harry smirked. "Lucius?"
"I can imagine no one else who would settle both of our tabs and list everything as research. Albus would've only paid for the room." He took a step into the room. "Are you prepared to leave?"
Harry looked at the bag he'd just finished packing. "Yeah, pretty much. Y'know, you never told me why you did all of this. This week was so weird, the way you've been behaving…was your goal to make me feel awkward?"
The younger wizard had of course been joking, but the look on the other man's face stated that he clearly thought it wasn't funny. "It might have perhaps been a little less awkward if you had just accepted what I was giving you," The man argued, scowling.
Harry returned the scowl full force. "Maybe it would've been easier to accept if you had just told me why you did it in the first place. It's hard to relax when you're waiting for the other shoe to drop!"
Snape scoffed, crossing his arms. "That is so typical, Potter. Something different, something maybe even fun, and you're so distrusting that you can't even let yourself enjoy it for a minute!"
"When have I ever been given a reason to trust anything based on a given? We're not friends, Severus, we've never even been really nice to one another, we've been…tolerant at best. My trust of you as man does not mean I'm not afraid you'd use something like this against me. I've seen you do it to others before," Harry pointed out.
"But I've never done that to you, not once. How can you claim to trust me when it's clear that you do not?"
"I do trust you, I just don't trust you being nice to me! I'm confused as hell about all of this. Why can't you just tell me what this is all about?" The Defense Master demanded incredulously.
Snape glared at the boy, his arms visibly tensing. "At this point I'm not even sure I know anymore. Get your things, I already told Albus I'd make sure you got back to Hogwarts without a fight with the International Travel Committee. It reflects poorly on the school if the teachers get into trouble with the law. I'll be waiting by the lift." With that, the older man spun on his heel, managing his usual flourish even without his robes, and vanished.
Harry stood fuming, even after he heard the front door of the room slam shut. Finally, when he was sure he'd gotten his temper down to a minor spark in his stomach he picked up his bags and followed after the man. "Stupid, stubborn, ridiculous…what is his problem?! It's not like it's a hard question. Merlin, this ride in the lift is gonna suck. He just had to have a damned room on the freaking top floor. Why is that man so hard-headed?!" He pursed his lips as he exited the room and kept his silence as he met his colleague by the elevator. The silence between them was almost violent in its totality as they awaited the lift, and only grew more stifling as they stepped into the small space.
They stood apart in the elevator, neither even looking at the other. Severus growled. "Why are you being so ridiculous about this?"
"Why are you being so stubborn?" Harry returned. "It's just a question, Severus, why can't you answer?"
"Because I shouldn't have to, Harry, the answer is right in front of your face and you can't trust yourself long enough to accept it!"
"Trust myself?" Harry asserted. "I thought your problem was because you thought I didn't trust you?"
"Why can't it be both?" Snape insisted.
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but was stopped as the two were thrown about the cart, the elevator coming to a jolting stop. The lights flickered before going out entirely. "Oh, great," Harry mumbled, groaning as he felt his companion shift where he landed on top of him. "Ow, I think I bruised my head. Why does this kind of stuff always happen?"
"You're a walking hazard, Potter," Snape grumbled, rolling off of the younger man. "Remind me not to get into another lift with you."
"Right," Harry murmured. "Because everything is my fault." He sat up and rubbed at the back of his head, feeling a large bump beginning to form. "I can pretty much guarantee this wasn't my doing. Even with accidental magic I'd have plastered the walls and floor with cushioning charms. I'm gonna guess magic is no?"
"That would be correct. As neither of us is trained in magic of this sort, we risk snapping the line and sending ourselves plummeting down the shaft, and even combined our cushioning charms and stability spells wouldn't be enough to prevent the metal from collapsing on top of us," The Potions Master explained. Harry heard him sit back against the mirror-covered wall, and scooted himself over to sit next to him.
"I think this is the dumbest fight we've ever had," The Defense Master commented idly. "You won't answer my question, and I won't stop asking it." Both men chuckled lightly. Just then, the lights flickered back on, but the lift remained stubbornly still. "Well, at least there's that." Harry mumbled. They sat in silence for several long moments. "Severus…Call me blind, call me stupid, say what you want…I just don't understand any of this. I had a really great time with you this week, you showed me the world through your eyes and it was the most incredible thing I have ever been allowed to witness. But this isn't us…when I was apprenticing under Slone and you spent that year researching with him, when you helped me with my thesis research on the Red Caps, and when I first started at Hogwarts…For those three years this is what I wanted. I knew that if we could just get past our differences…but you made it clear that you didn't want that. And now, after ten fucking years, suddenly you do? I do trust you, Severus, you have to know that by now, but you can't expect me to understand this sudden change just because you think it's obvious."
Snape sighed and crossed his legs at the ankle as he studied his clasped hands in his lap, his hair curtaining his face. "Potter …you said that this week…that you got to see the world through my eyes…I've had a view through your eyes for the last ten years. The way you see the world is so indescribably beautiful, and you're always so open. This week, I wanted to give back something of what you've given me these last ten years, I decided that I wanted you to see…me. I've just gotten so tired of our constant back and forth, tired of you only seeing the man I've pretended to be for so long. This last week, I showed you a side of myself that I haven't shown anyone since your mother and I were friends. I've kept it locked inside, I didn't trust anyone to see who I could be, who I used to be before everything happened." He pulled a knee up to his chest in a show of his insecurity, his head still bent. "You may not believe this, but I've wanted to show you this side of myself ever since I was helping you and Slone do your research, but I was…"
"I get it," Harry mumbled. "But why? Why show me this now? Why'd you wait ten years?"
"I can't," Severus whispered, shaking his head. "Please don't ask, Harry, I just can't explain. Isn't it enough that I've shown you now? That we can be what you wanted?"
Harry huffed and sat silent for a minute before smacking his hands into the carpeted flooring. "No, Severus, it isn't enough. You knew all this time that this is what I wanted, I know you did, it's why you never quite pushed me away. You can say it was my persistence, but I was never really as persistent as you claim, there were times where you sought me for something or other. I ignored all of that, I assumed what we had was all there was ever going to be, and now you drop this beautiful, incredible side of yourself into my lap and you won't even tell me why?! I'm tired, too, Severus, I'm tired of ignoring your passivity. If this is really what you want, for us to be friends, then I have a right to know why. Why now?"
"Harry…" The man shook his head and Harry was surprised to see a droplet fall onto the fabric covering the man's knee. When he finally looked at the younger wizard, there were tears beginning to form at the edges of his eyes. "I've…I'm in love with you, Harry, and I have been for six years."
Harry struggled to his feet, falling backwards into the wall furthest from the corner his companion occupied. "You what?!"
The Potions Master flinched at Harry's incredulous tone. "I'm sorry, I never…I didn't plan it."
"Well obviously!" Harry shouted, annoyed. "If you had planned it you might have told me sooner, or considered how I felt about it! Shit, Severus, what the hell?!"
"You think I didn't?!" Severus pushed himself to his feet. "I've thought about how you'd feel every single day since I realized. Every time I saw you, I was tormented with thoughts of how you would react! As for why I didn't say anything before, why should I have? You can't imagine what I've gone through these six years, the torment over falling for my former student, my colleague, my friend. But it was better to deal with that than this, than watching you back away from me like I'm diseased."
"What?!" Harry screeched. "You…you…" He put his head in his hands, groaning. "How could you think I was…" He walked to the other wall, and spun to face the man angrily. "I tripped, you jackass! I wasn't backing away!"
"So what?" The man sulked. "One could still say your reaction was less than favorable."
Harry let out a loud, annoyed groan. "Of course it is, you stupid, stubborn, clueless…" He closed the few feet between them in two strides and pulled the older man into a deep, passionate kiss. When the man didn't respond, he pulled back. "What happened to all that insightful intelligence I fell in love with 10 years ago?" It took a moment for the Potion Master's shocked mind to connect the dots, but after a few seconds, strong arms looped around Harry's back, a sly grin spreading across aristocratic features as their lips joined once more.
After several long moments, the elevator jolted suddenly, startling them apart lest they be thrown around again. Slowly, and with jerky movements, the elevator began to move again. Harry grinned at his companion shyly as he moved back into the curve of his arm, leaning back against the back wall. Suddenly, something caught his eye.
"Oh ye who notices every detail," He whispered.
Severus sighed. "I get it, Harry, I've been clueless, can we drop the stick now?"
"No, that's not it…what color are the buttons for the floors?"
"Because they aren't right now, and they weren't when we got on. I believe the color they are could be described as cyan, maybe cerulean…I was never clear on the exact shade of blue." Harry said calmly, pointing to the rows of buttons. He watched as his companions eyes narrowed in a deep scowl. "We'll have to remember to thank him."
The scowl disappeared as Severus looked down into his eyes. "Yes, of course, Harry…right after I kill him for nearly giving you a concussion."
Harry smirked. "Just so long as he gets thanked at some point. I look forward to exploring where this can go."