WARNINGS: Graphic and explicit mentions of self-harm and destructive self-hate, nightmares and sex scenes. Angst, adventure and romance (Snarry slash). Happy ending :) Enjoy!

Severus Snape closed the thick tome he held with a darkly pensive expression. He had begun reading it simply because Lucius had recommended it to him, but towards the end he had come across a spell that gave him a most interesting idea…

Laying the book aside, he stood and swiftly made his way out of his quarters, walking silently through the abandoned halls of Hogwarts and up, up in the direction of a very specific set of rooms. Only two days left before the silence of these hallowed halls was filled once more with the grating noise of students, he thought with a sneer as he approached his destination. Giving the password these rooms always had when unoccupied – "Head Boy and Girl," – Severus stepped into the rooms Harry Potter and Hermione Granger would be occupying during their last year at Hogwarts.

Oh, he had done everything he could to change Albus's mind about that particular choice, but of course the Gryffindor darlings had been offered the posts, never mind that Potter hadn't even been a Prefect and was in fact absolutely unsuited for the post of Head Boy and Granger was nothing more than an obnoxious know-it-all.

Severus's brows drew together as he realized that during his own seventh year Lily Evans and James Potter had shared these very rooms. He gripped his wand, suddenly tempted to wreck the suite, but he managed to keep his hand hanging stiffly by his side as he strode into the room Harry Potter would occupy in two far too short days.

Gritting his teeth at the sight of the wide bed – certainly big enough for two to fit comfortably – he moved swiftly on into the bathroom, finding there the object he had come here for: The long mirror over the sink, directly across from the door and thus with a perfect view of the bedroom as well as most of the bathroom, including the shower as it was opposite.

Taking a deep breath and stopping where his face was reflected in the center of the mirror, Severus raised his right hand and cast the complex spell that he had read and promptly memorized, a soft blue glow briefly illuminating the mirror indicating that his casting had been successful. Striding away without waiting for the glow to disappear, Severus quickly made his way back to his own quarters, knowing that the glow would remain for a quarter hour and that those fifteen minutes were all the time he had to bind that mirror to another.

The spell he had just cast would bind the view of one mirror to another, allowing him to see in his own mirror what this mirror reflected without Potter being at all the wiser; unfortunately the spell did not include sound, but even so it should be sufficient to inform Severus if Potter was up to no good – as he always was, Severus thought with a curl of his lip. This year, however, he would be better prepared for Potter's harebrained stunts.

Two days later the students arrived, and Severus found himself in a dark mood and sporting a throbbing headache by the time he made it to his quarters. Deciding that his mood couldn't possibly get any worse he walked into his bathroom and activated the spell he had cast on the mirror, thinking he would test whether his spell was working properly. It had certainly switched to reflect what the mirror in the Head Boy's bathroom showed, but as the room had still been empty there hadn't been much to see. Now, however, Severus seemed to have activated the mirror just as Potter and Granger reached their new rooms, for mere moments later Potter walked into sight, finding his trunk waiting for him at the foot of his large bed and only briefly looking around the room and bathroom before unpacking the contents of his trunk into the drawers provided, hanging up his cloak out of sight, most likely on the coat stand by the door to the suite. Then he returned and entered the bathroom, setting up his few toiletries – a toothbrush and paste were all he had, and Severus curled his lip at the absence of deodorant, knowing that at least soap and shampoo would be provided for the students unless they brought their own.

Potter closed the bathroom door and briefly used the toilet – which Severus was thankful could not be seen from the mirror's point of view – before washing his hands and looking up at the mirror, bracing his hands against the sink and exhaling deeply. Severus realized then that Potter had only glanced once at the mirror, when he had first entered the room, and otherwise completely ignored the reflective surface. Perhaps he was waiting for this moment to appreciate the sight of his own face, Severus sneered as Potter looked deeply into his own eyes.

Then the boy's eyes tightened, a subtle change in his expression resulting in a look so full of disgust and loathing that Severus stepped aside, fearing for a moment that his spell had somehow gone awry and Potter was able to see him as he could see the student. But Potter's eyes didn't move from their fixed position, and as Severus looked on Potter spoke one word and turned away, closing the bathroom door again behind him.

Narrowing his eyes, Severus cancelled the spell allowing him to see through Potter's mirror and went through his own nightly ablutions, wondering what the word was that Potter had spoken and who he had been thinking of when he looked into the mirror with that expression of disgust. Most likely his hated Professor Snape or school rival Malfoy, Severus thought with a curl of the lip, making his own way to his bed.

It was only once he lay in bed that he realized he had closed the bathroom door behind himself; a habit he had never had before but had done unconsciously as he exited the room. Scowling, he realized that despite his confidence in his own casting skills he subconsciously feared that Potter could reverse the spell and see into his own bathroom, and he most definitely did not want a Potter looking into his rooms.

Rolling over with a scowl, Severus Snape downed a vial of headache relief potion and attempted to sleep.

The first day of classes was as terrible as it was every year, and as had become a custom he marked the day by drinking an entire bottle of red wine in his quarters before retiring for the night. He did not check the mirror that night.

The next day he had the displeasure of teaching the NEWT class, which included not only the insufferable Miss Granger but the one and only Mr. Potter. He himself was vitriolic and biting in his remarks, not even praising his Slytherins in the lesson and snide in all his comments to the Gryffindors in the room. The Ravenclaws mostly knew to shut up and produced flawless potions to a man, and the Hufflepuffs minded their own business despite the occasional appearance of wanting to say something in defense of whichever Gryffindor he was disparaging at the time.

The rest of the day continued similarly, and the dirty looks he received at dinner that evening did not improve his mood at all. However, he only indulged in alcohol on three days of the year, and instead settled for glaring darkly at the surface of his mirror as it reflected the Head Boy's bathroom, willing Potter to come in so that Severus would be glaring at something better than a closed door.

And lo and behold, the door opened to reveal Potter, his face stony and movements jerky. The boy closed the door behind him and sketched his wand through the air in the clear movements of a silencing charm before laying down his wand and stripping off his robes and disgustingly oversized t-shirt, and Severus grimaced and lifted his wand to cancel the spell as he realized that Potter might just be about to masturbate.

But then the youth picked his wand up and met his own eyes in the mirror, the same look of intense disgust and loathing there as the first night. Then the boy's eyes hardened and he raised his wand once more, moving it in a pattern Severus hadn't expected, and abruptly the glamors covering the student's body disappeared, leaving Severus slack-jawed at what was revealed.

Far from the smooth, flawless torso that had been visible before, Potter's skin was marked many times over, small nicks marring his arms and chest, a huge scar as from an oversized puncture wound spread across his left shoulder, and several bruises apparent along his visibly raised ribs. Then Potter raised his hand once more, and as he set a razor to the skin of his left shoulder Severus finally realized that the small scars adorning his body were self-inflicted, watching in mute shock as Potter drew the razor across his skin, all the time looking at himself in the mirror with what Severus now realized was self-loathing, a deep look of such dark and destructive emotions that Severus could only look on in shocked horror.

Then blood eased from the cut, running sluggishly off the boy's shoulder and down his chest, and Potter closed his eyes, an indescribably complex expression on his face that merged relief, hate, disgust and pain all in one – and Severus doubled over, throwing up violently into the sink he stood before.

Gasping heaving breaths between retches, Severus stared at the pristine white stone of his sink and only saw the sight of Potter before his eyes, Potter cutting, Potter with the most intense look of self-hatred on his face than he had ever seen on anyone's face excepting his own, and mixed with the relief it wrenched at Severus's heart in a way his own self-disgust never had.

Swallowing and gagging, Severus raised his head and whimpered as he saw that three other cuts had joined the first, four neat lines in a row along Potter's shoulder, Potter finally lowering the razor and opening his eyes once more, dragging Severus into emerald depths of muted pain that was not physical, but psychological. Severus had read that some people cut to feel the sharp pain, to know they were alive, or to mute mental or emotional pain, but never before had he seen it in someone's eyes.

But then those emerald eyes sharpened, and Potter's face pulled into a snarl of rage stronger than Severus had ever seen the boy direct his way, the student spitting words at his reflection, sobbing then and hitting the sink with both fists, backing up against the door and leaning heavily against it, panting as he stared in horrified disgust at himself in the mirror. After what looked like a shaky laugh the boy said what Severus thought was the same word as before, abruptly ducking to grab his clothes and wand, casting anew the glamor disguising his disfigurements before leaving the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

Severus blanked the mirror, confronted immediately with his own horrified visage, and mouthed the word Potter had said. A pull at the lower lip with the upper teeth, clenched teeth, then a small outward motion of the lips… F, R, then either I or E.

Free? Fry? Free seemed more likely judging by the lip motion. But "free" made no sense, Severus frowned at himself in the mirror. Why would Potter say "free" with such obvious disgust? Was he mocking what someone had said to him? Perhaps someone had called him free, and he knew himself to be anything but?

Suddenly Severus had the urge to vomit again, and he bent to rinse out his mouth.

Potter cutting? It was ludicrous, impossible – but he had just seen it happen. When had it begun? Potter couldn't have learned to cast a glamor in his first year – and if that were the case, then all the marks were more recent; and wasn't that a horrifying thought.

Looking back up into the mirror, Severus found his lost expression reflected back at him, and for once he was reluctant to blame it on Potter. Those were not the emotions or actions of an attention-seeking princely brat, those were the emotions and actions of a young man who hated absolutely everything about himself. Exhaling shakily, Severus tried to remember whether there had been any signs of it before; but the truth was that Severus usually went out of his way to avoid and ignore Potter, unless he was doing something annoying or was sitting in his class.

…And what had Potter ever done to deserve Severus's treatment of him?

Severus didn't like that line of questioning at all, but forced himself to face it. The truth was that Harry Potter hadn't done anything to Severus before his first Potions lesson, and the resentment the boy had shown him in later years had been initiated and fostered by Severus himself.

Severus felt sick considering it. Had he had a hand in driving the boy to cutting? Had he helped the youth hate himself by showing him at every possible turn that he himself hated him with an undying passion?

Doubling over once more, Severus dry-heaved over the sink. Dear sweet Lord, he could now look back and realize that his treatment of the boy, and indeed most of his students, was abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse.

Severus laughed slightly hysterically. "Might as well add physical abuse, then I'll be exactly like my father," he said aloud, his tone of voice scaring a distant part of his mind. Most of him was too busy being horrified at the revelations of his own character that he now realized were far too long in coming.

"My God," he gasped out, straightening but not looking at the mirror as he braced himself against the sink. What had he done?

Been a loyal spy and played my role well, he wanted to justify it, but for once, for the first time in far too long, he knew himself to be in the wrong. And he didn't know what to do about it.

He couldn't change his teaching style; he had begun it both to get back at the Gryffindors who had so wronged him during his own school years and to play the part of the loyal Death Eater, and to change radically now would jeopardize his position with the Dark Lord. He could, however, perhaps attempt to tone it down and not be quite as vitriolic as he had been this day. Alone the memory of the day's lesson made the bile rise in his throat once more.

And then, Potter.

The boy was insufferable, exactly like his father – but no. James Potter would never have marked his perfect body. Or would he? Severus felt as though a vice were squeezing his chest as he realized that he knew nothing about either Potter. James Potter had been a cocky bully, but he had believed the son to be just as cocky only to find out that the boy was anything but.

As Severus stared blankly into the sink he remembered another spell he had read about, and considered using it – but two wrongs did not a right make. He had already invaded Potter's privacy unforgivably by casting that spell linking their mirrors; surely there was no justification to excuse a further violation…

And yet Severus had no idea how else to understand the young man. Feeling his heart pound, he considered his wand and knew that he should take a few days to think it over. A few days to steady his own mind before he delved into Potter's. A few days to find good enough reasons to tell himself it was alright to invade Potter's dreams and influence them, for he knew that after those few days, he would choose to use that spell.

Saturday evening came, and it found Severus waiting in front of his mirror once more. Watching each night had shown that Potter came into his bathroom each night before going to bed, always ending his nightly ablutions with that heart wrenching look but not cutting again.

Severus had also watched the boy during the previous few days, seeing him laughing and talking with his friends, eating in the Great Hall – though the boy ate less than even Granger, something his friends didn't seem to notice – and even in the single Potions class he'd had since the last one. Admitting to himself that Potter actually prepared the ingredients competently had almost physically pained him.

This night Severus waited again until the door had closed behind Potter before ending the connection and going through his own nightly ablutions, settling comfortably into bed and letting his mind wander for another quarter hour before he cast the spell designed to link his awake mind with the other person's sleeping mind. He had prepared the spell by casting the first part on Potter in the hallway one day, and now Potter would glow slightly in his sleep each time Severus initiated the second part of the spell, but as long as the boy wasn't sharing a bed with someone else there should be no issues.

Deciding that Potter was most likely asleep by now Severus closed his eyes and cast the spell, immediately finding his mind hurtling away much in the way it did when using Legilimency.

Then, abruptly, he was in Potter's mind, and the boy was quite clearly caught in the throes of a nightmare even though he couldn't have been asleep for more than ten minutes.

It was a battlefield scenario, with Potter's allies falling left and right with Potter himself struggling to defend against the Dark hordes they were up against. Seeing that he himself was nowhere to be seen, Severus stepped into place next to Potter, raising his wand and casting a powerful shockwave spell that knocked the entire first row of attackers back, careening into the troops behind them and knocking them over. Severus followed the spell up immediately with a wide-range cutting spell, taking off limbs and heads of a number of opponents.

"The spell is Scindo Maximo," he yelled to Potter over the din of the battlefield. "Simply swipe your wand. I will see to the injured!" Potter gave him an absolutely stunned look, but Severus merely nodded to him before turning and healing the injured with unrealistic ease – it was a dream, after all, and it seemed he could influence it however he wanted. When he rejoined Potter, the two of them advanced, decimating the forces before them with unparalleled ease until there was no Dark force left standing but two: The Dark Lord himself, and a masked Death Eater by his side.

"Severusss," the Dark Lord said, and Severus's eyes widened when the masked Death Eater removed his mask to show – himself.

"A fine trick, my Lord," Severus said drily, casting the spell to end a glamor and causing the figure to disappear into thin air. "However, you lost my loyalty a long, long time ago. I stand by a Potter's side, now." Technically, he was on Albus's side, but in this dream he stood literally by Potter's side, so he spoke no lie.

"Do not lie, Severus," the Dark Lord laughed. "We all know that you hate no one more than you do Harry Potter." Severus didn't miss the agreeing look Potter shot him.

"With all due respect," Severus sneered, "I have not hated Harry Potter in some time, and that hatred was a foolish one born of my hatred of his father." Oh, that had been a hard pill to swallow, but a realization Severus had finally accepted just the previous day. He never wanted to admit to Albus that the man had been right all these years. "I was forced to keep up the façade of hate all these years or risk my position as a spy in your ranks, but had I not been so dedicated to my position in the fight for the Light I would have treated Potter with a great deal more respect, perhaps even warmth." Untrue, but something he truly wished for now. "I would have been glad to share knowledge of his mother with him; everyone only tells him about his father, who was popular at best and a bully at worst. Should he approach me now with questions about his mother I would be happy to tell him about her." That at least was true, he had found to his surprise: The thought of Lily certainly didn't hurt as it once had, and once he had been forced to reevaluate his opinion of her son he had realized that he was neither like Lily nor James. He was Harry, and Severus hated himself for taking so long to realize it.

Feeling disbelieving eyes on him, Severus turned his head to meet Potter's gaze.

"I do not lie, Potter; why would I, here in a dream?" Suddenly he made a decision that would change their interactions completely. "If you wish to know of your mother, or have questions for me, simply write on your mirror tomorrow night and I will appear in your dreams once more. Never doubt that I stand firmly on your side." Waving his wand at the image of the Dark Lord, he caused the figure to go up in smoke. "You are greater than he."

With that Severus let himself drift away from the dream, following the pull back to his own mind and falling into dreams of his own, nightmares where no one came to rescue him from his attackers.

The following day Severus agonized over his spontaneous offer to Potter, knowing that if he truly kept his word it would become clear to Potter that it hadn't just been a dream. And yet… he did want the boy to know that he was not hated, that Severus truly was on his side.

Sunday night he activated his mirror to find Potter already standing before his, regarding it not with the complex expression Severus had nearly become accustomed to seeing, but with a darkly pensive one. After several minutes Potter said a few words that Severus decided were most likely along the lines of 'I must be crazy to be doing this,' and reached out with his right hand to sketch some words on the mirror.

I WANT TO DREAM, it read – backwards, of course, from Severus's point of view, and the marks faded almost as soon as they appeared, but the signal was clear. With another pensive look Potter made his way into the bedroom, leaving the bathroom door open for once and leaving Severus with a view of the boy as he settled into bed. Only once Severus saw what he thought might be rhythmical deep breathing did he blank the mirror, leaving his bathroom door open as he settled into his own bed and cast the same spell as the night before.

With a strange ease Severus hurtled away from his own mind and settled into Potter's dream, quickly assessing the situation and finding to his surprise that Potter seemed to be dreaming of a regular evening in Gryffindor Tower.

Wrinkling his nose, Severus insinuated himself into the dream, walking up to Potter's seated form and ignoring the other students.

"Perhaps we might go to my quarters," he suggested when the student looked up in shock. "I should have there some photos of Lily as I knew her."

Potter gaped blankly at him for a few moments before shutting his mouth and standing, leaving his books on the table as he followed Severus out of the common room.

"You came," he stated dumbly, and Severus merely nodded where in real life he would have sneered.

"You wished me to, did you not?"

"…Well, yes," Potter admitted, and Severus nodded again.

"And here I am." A step later and they were on the ground floor, Severus having reshaped the fabric of the dream so that they wouldn't have to make their way down all the steps. "This way," he led his student to the location of his private quarters, giving the password in a way Potter could clearly hear it. He almost hoped that Potter would attempt to give it in reality and find himself allowed access to the Potions Master's quarters. It was a small concession after the major breach of privacy Severus had committed.

"Have a seat," Severus invited. "Some tea?" A complete tea set formed on the table, and Severus's eyebrows rose. "There are distinct advantages to conversing in a dream, clearly." Leading the way over to the seating corner, he chose one end of the couch and left his companion the choice between the other end of the couch and an armchair; and to his surprise the boy chose the couch.

"You said you could tell me about my mum," Potter said softly as he poured them both a cup of tea, adding sugar and milk to his but nothing to Severus's cup.

"Indeed," Severus said, raising his wand to summon a photo album from his bedroom. It came flying into the room and Severus caught it deftly, opening it to the first page and showing the photograph to his younger companion.

"The photos will not be quite right," he confessed, "as I can only show you my mental recollection of the photos, but perhaps someday I will be able to show you the originals." Not expecting an answer, he started explaining the first photo: One taken of him and Lily a few years before they were due to go to Hogwarts; they were perhaps eight years old, and Lily was dressed in an adorable yellow dress while Severus had nondescript and shabby black clothing on. From there Severus went on to recount his memories of Lily, beginning with their first meeting when he had watched a beautiful girl swinging with her sister and realized she was magical, like him.

"That was not a detailed recounting," he admitted to her son when he had finished telling the complete story up to the day of her death, "but that is the gist of it. Your mother was my best, my only true friend – and I was a foolish idiot wanting to fit in with my peer group and pushed her away." He closed the photo book, looking away. "It remains my greatest regret, for all that fitting in with my peer group allowed me to save countless lives as a spy in later years. I was unable to save her. Tell me," he said abruptly, looking over at his silent companion, "did Albus tell you that it was I who overheard the prophecy and delivered it to the Dark Lord?"

By the flash in the boy's eyes, Albus had not. Severus grimaced, but didn't look away. "Yes; that was when I was still trying desperately to prove myself, and when I overheard part of a prophecy I ran to my master," he said as levelly as he could, "with it. At that point in time there was no knowing who it was about, and it was only later that I heard Lily was pregnant and realized what that meant." He looked away, regret lining his face. "That was when I joined the Light," he said softly. "I was a fool…"

Silence fell.

"…I see," Potter said finally, and Severus looked back up, finding emerald eyes watching him levelly. "Thank you for this chat, Professor," the boy said, standing from the couch and nodding to his professor. "I need some time to consider the things you've told me."

Severus stood as well, feeling both surprise and respect at the boy's mature reaction. He would probably have tried to kill himself in Potter's position. "Of course," he said, nodding. "Should you wish me to enter your dreams once more, please ensure the word 'dream' reaches me, perhaps in passing in the hallways or at the end of an essay. I do apologize for intruding on your dreams in such a way; it echoes too closely the violation of two years ago. I went far too far in our Occlumency lessons then, ripping into your mind forcefully on the orders of my master." He grimaced. "I had tried to talk Albus out of assigning you lessons with me, for I knew that I could teach you nothing during them or risk detection as a spy. For that, I hope someday you may forgive me." He looked away. "However, that is a topic for another day. I wish you pleasant dreams, and apologize in advance for my treatment of you in tomorrow's lesson. I cannot abruptly change my treatment of you, but know that I do not mean any of my insults. You are not the James Potter I knew, nor are you like Lily Evans; you are Harry, and I have found Harry to be admirable indeed. Please do not take my insults for truth."

Knowing that was the best he could do just then, he nodded once more and released his hold on the dream, drifting back into his own mind and into his own dreams.

The next day he penned a short note and had a house elf leave it on Potter's bed; it included the instructions on how to cast the dream-linking spells, a suggestion that the first part is best cast in a detention, and instructions to burn the note after both spells had been memorized and correctly cast once. He felt it only fair that Potter have the opportunity to seek him out and violate his privacy in the same way as he had. Knowing that Potter would only see the note later in the day, Severus discreetly sabotaged Potter's potion and assigned him detention for the next day, checking the mirror briefly that evening but though Potter regarded the reflective surface pensively once more he didn't write an invitation for Severus to join him in his dreams.

Tuesday evening Potter showed up to his scheduled detention and Severus set him to slicing pickled cabbage. Halfway through the detention Severus stood and caught Potter's eye.

"You received my note?" he inquired, and Potter nodded.

"Yes, sir," he replied unusually respectfully, and Severus turned his back to the student.

"Excellent. Carry on." Thankfully, Potter understood his meaning and Severus heard him wipe off his hand before picking up his wand and carefully casting the first spell of the dream-linking spells. Waiting until Potter had put his wand down again, Severus turned and seated himself again. Looking up, he raised an eyebrow at his student.

"Well?" he asked somewhat snidely, giving the cabbage a pointed look. "What are you waiting for?"

"Sorry, sir," Potter muttered, picking up his knife and going back to slicing under the Professor's critical eye. The message that they couldn't act out of character in real life was heard and understood, and the rest of the detention ran as usual.

That night, however, Severus went to bed without checking the mirror and didn't even realize he was asleep and dreaming until Potter stood before him with a pensive expression.

"Hello, Professor," he greeted noncommittally, and Severus inclined his head.

"You are welcome to call me by my given name when we are in dream space," he offered spontaneously, and he could tell that he had taken Potter by surprise.

"…What is your given name?" Potter asked, and Severus couldn't stop the snort that escaped him.

"Severus," he replied drily. "I suppose my mother thought it would match my character." Potter wisely refrained from commenting, and Severus's lips twitched. "Welcome to my mind, Potter," he said, spreading his hands wide to indicate the bleak white space that surrounded them. "Make yourself at home," Severus added wryly.

"Harry," the youth said, and Severus immediately understood what the boy was saying.

"Harry," he echoed with a nod. "You are welcome here."

The youth simply gazed at him. "Thank you," he said finally. "I'll try not to abuse the privilege."

"Then you are the better man here," Severus conceded wryly. "You may have guessed that I have a means of seeing through your mirror; I will give you the appropriate spells for the case that you wish to reciprocate the invasion of privacy. I already gave you the password to my rooms in the last dream, so you are welcome to enter if you wish; I do not know the password to your quarters, nor do I intend to spy on you through your mirror."

The boy opposite him paled abruptly. "You saw, didn't you," he whispered, the horror in his voice like a vice around Severus's heart. "That's why you started all this."

"No," Severus lied easily. "I did test the mirror at an inopportune moment, but that is not why I contacted you. I had simply come across the spells at the end of August and seen an opportunity to tell you the truth in complete privacy. I do deeply regret intruding on what was clearly a private moment of weakness, but I am no stranger to such destructive emotions as you showed," Severus looked away, knowing that for a moment self-disgust had made its way through his blank mask. Potter – Harry – seemed to be nearly hyperventilating, and Severus forced himself to look back at the student. Shaking his head, Severus grimaced. "There is no apologizing for such an invasion of privacy, but I hope that free access to my own mind, mirror, and memories might at least be a start. If you wish instead to call the Aurors, you are fully within your rights to have me arrested, and I will most likely be in Azkaban before the end of the day." He couldn't help the small shudder that he gave at the thought of being stuck in that prison. "I will not fight it if you choose that course of action." Swallowing, Severus held the boy's gaze. He meant it, but that hadn't made it any easier to say.

"…Why?" Potter- no, Harry asked, his voice sharp with disbelief. "Why would you say all this? Apologize? Offer to go to Azkaban for- for- for invading my privacy? You've done it before!"

"Yes," Severus agreed, holding Harry's conflicted gaze, "and that was illegal. You could quite legally have me put away in Azkaban for a single offense of aggressive Legilimency, and we both know that I surpassed even twenty offenses. Then I linked our mirrors without your permission and witnessed an intensely private moment, after which I proceeded to violate the safety of your sleeping mind as well. Any single one of those is against the law; put them all together and I would quite possibly face a Dementor's Kiss instead of Azkaban." Another shudder he couldn't prevent. "As for why I say it – it is the truth, and my apologies long, long overdue. Were I in your shoes, I would have killed me by now. That you have not simply shows again that you are the better man," Severus looked away with another visible flash of self-disgust. "I am simply marking time until the Dark Lord is dead, anyhow; it is the only reason I am still in this world. I have a duty to perform, and once my duty is done I do not believe I will stay here." He had never admitted to anyone his suicidal thoughts and certainly hadn't planned on revealing them to this boy, but it was the truth.

"So I would ask that you hold off on killing me until the Dark Lord is dead," he continued stonily, his gaze directed into the white distance. "After that, my life has no meaning anymore. I do not cut only because I would do it too efficiently."

Silence fell once more; a heavy, oppressive silence, and Severus felt short of breath.

Then Harry laughed. Severus's head snapped over to stare at the boy, and he saw that the laughter was hysteric and out of control, tears in Harry's eyes even as he doubled over with laughter.

"We're both messed up," Harry gasped through his laughter, tears now running down his cheeks. "So, so messed up," he said, and now there was no laughter and only sobs, the sound of a broken child.

Severus exhaled heavily. "What a familiar sound," he said, and it seemed the strangest and yet the most natural thing ever to reach out and take the young man into his arms, hugging him as no one had ever hugged him when it was he sobbing his heart out.

"Does it ever get better?" Harry forced out, clutching at Severus's robes like a lifeline. "Does it?"

Severus closed his eyes and held the boy closer. "I wouldn't know."

The day after Severus felt strangely lightened, his burden somehow less for having shared it. Somehow he hoped that Potter felt the same way, and he wrote Harry a note with the mirror-linking spells with an unusually complex mix of emotions.

That night Severus woke abruptly knowing he'd dreamed, but that the nightmare had been of his own making – and, somehow, he knew that Harry had been there, simply watching silently from the sidelines.

Severus shivered remembering it, having just awoken in a cold sweat. It had started innocuously enough, with him teaching a Potions class, but then there had been a minor accident and Severus had rounded on Potter, who stared back at him defiantly. What had followed was a tirade even more abusive than Severus had ever spoken, the student staring at him levelly the entire time with an increasingly stony expression.

Then Severus had stalked away, robes billowing behind him, entering the room next door and finding himself in his bathroom – and confronted with the sight of Potter, razor in his hand as he cut and cut, his face contorted and blood staining his skin. Severus paled and stepped forward to stop the boy, only to find that he was seeing him through the linked mirror when his fingers touched cool glass.

But, as though Harry had somehow sensed him, the boy looked up and locked intense eyes with him. His expression of self-disgust deepened and he spoke to Severus – but Severus couldn't hear the words, and couldn't read the student's lips. Then Harry laughed the same hysteric laugh he had the previous night, tears streaming down his face as he screamed at the mirror, screamed at Severus who found himself clawing and ripping at the mirror as though he could go through it to the hurting boy.

Harry stopped for a moment and cocked his head at Severus almost curiously, and Severus realized that he was crying, crying and begging Harry to stop as he clawed at the mirror. Then Harry grinned, the sight frightening in its feral intensity, and lifted the razor to his throat.

"Goodbye, Professor," he mouthed clearly, and Severus screamed as the razor bit into the smooth skin, blood spurting out as Harry grinned and Severus tried desperately, somehow, to make his way through the mirror. His scream cut off and he realized somehow that he couldn't go through a mirror, and turning on his heel he ran, ran faster than he had ever before, Harry's laughter echoing behind him as he flew through the halls on his way to the boy's rooms.

"Head Boy and Girl," he yelled at the statue when he was close enough. It didn't move aside, and he realized with horror that he didn't know the password. "Dream!" he yelled. "Mirror!", "Gryffindor!", he realized he had no idea what it could be and frantically pulled out his wand, blasting the statue until a gaping hole was left that he ducked through without hesitation.

Careening through the living room he smashed his way into the student's bedroom – and froze at the sight that met him there.

Lily and Potter in bed together, the covers thrown aside and their bodies intertwined, Lily crying out and throwing her head back as Potter pounded into her, kissing her neck as she clutched at him, her red hair spread out on the white sheets under her. Severus panted out a sound that sounded remarkably like a whimper and pushed himself back into motion, ripping open the bathroom door to find – nothing. It was spotless, no Harry in sight.

Uncomprehendingly he raised his eyes to the mirror and froze anew at the sight in it. It wasn't another cutting Harry, thank God, but a reflection of the bedroom behind him – and Severus turned to find that exact scene playing out behind him.

There lay Harry and Granger in the same position as Potter's parents before them, Granger's hands with their bitten nails clutching at Harry's arms, sliding over healed scars as he moved his mouth from her neck to kiss her deeply, steadily sliding in and out of her as she moaned under him.

And then, to Severus's horror, the picture changed again. Harry remained, but now the person under him was Severus, the two of them kissing open-mouthed, tongues clearly in play while Harry pumped into Severus, the Potions Master's long legs rising up on either side of the delicate youth.

Harry ripped his mouth from Severus's with a low gasp, arching in visible pleasure as he thrust deeper into Severus's body, Severus panting and moaning as he threw back his head and arched his back to take Harry in as deeply as possible, clutching at the youth's shoulders as they writhed on the bed in shared pleasure, the sounds coming from them so amazingly hot that Severus felt himself go hard watching himself having sex with Harry Potter.

Then he saw blood, red blood trickling down Harry's arms from where Severus gripped him by the shoulders, the cuts along his body all tearing open one by one as the boy continued to pound into the man under him, neither of them seeming to notice that Harry was bleeding out all over them both – and then they both came simultaneously, with strangled cries of intense completion, and the blood on Severus's chest mixed with his ejaculation, the two males coming together in another fierce kiss while blood soaked the sheets under them.

"Come with me," Harry panted into Severus's mouth, kissing him along his jaw and neck. "End it with me."

"I can't yet-" Severus gasped, whimpering as Harry licked a particularly sensitive spot.

"Voldemort is dead," Harry said intently, biting down on Severus's earlobe and getting a sharp cry for his efforts. "You don't have to stay anymore."

Severus gasped out a sound that was more a sob than pleasure, gripping Harry's head and taking his lips in another fierce kiss. "Yes," he breathed, clutching at the younger male. "We'll go together."

And Harry smiled, the expression so tender and relieved that Severus's heart hurt, watching breathlessly as they both picked up their wands.

"I'll see you there," Harry whispered, leaning down to take Severus's lips in a lingering kiss. Then they raised their wands and pointed them at their own heads, eyes locked in a never-ending gaze as they intoned two words, green light flashed – and Severus awoke with a start.

The day after passed in a haze of quiet contemplation, Severus going through his routine in dark introspection. The nightmare had brought up things he hadn't considered in years, and though it didn't surprise him that Potter – Harry – had featured so prominently it threw up a lot of emotional turmoil. The few glimpses he caught of the youth during the day – predominantly during meals – showed that he was most likely faced with similar turmoil. One time their eyes met, and the moment stretched until Severus believed that they could have remained that way until forever ended had Weasley not elbowed Harry with a laughed remark. How had Severus never noticed the mask that slid so easily into place as the boy grinned at his ginger friend?

That evening Severus retired pensively to his rooms, staring unseeingly into space as he considered the nightmare of the previous night.

The cutting and joint suicide at the end weren't surprising; it was the part just before the end that had Severus thinking. He had seen himself being taken by Harry Potter, and been turned on by it.

He had not considered his sexuality or suitability as a partner in many, many years. Severus had never slept with a man, and the few times he'd slept with a woman had mostly been sponsored or initiated by Lucius, who had clearly thought that his young acquaintance needed corrupting. Severus had mostly considered himself asexual, as he had never felt any strong physical attraction to anyone nor a particular desire for intercourse, but he had wondered occasionally what it would be like to kiss another man. He had never acted on that curiosity.

And his suitability as a partner? Severus snorted. No one had ever showed any romantic interest in him before, so he had mostly avoided dwelling on the topic. He was unloved, unwanted – it was all he had ever known.

But privately, to himself, he had admitted long before that he wanted it. Wanted to be wanted. Wanted to feel loved.

Perhaps that was why dream Harry's clear wish for Severus to accompany him and his relief when Severus had agreed to made the Potions Master feel as though he couldn't breathe from the tight sensation around his heart.

They were so similar, really… They both seemed to long for human closeness, but neither of them initiated it, hiding behind their masks. Just as Severus had never fully opened up to Lily, so Harry didn't seem to let his friends in all the way. How strange that he would be the only one to know the Golden Boy's secret.

Then the door to his quarters slid open, and between one heartbeat and the next Severus was on his feet, wand in hand as he prepared to defend against whatever may come – and the invisibility cloak slid off the head of Harry Potter.

"God," Severus exhaled explosively, dropping back onto the sofa. "Give a man some warning next time." The boy merely looked at him evenly, and Severus waved his hand in the direction of his bedroom, guessing what the boy was there for. "Mirror's through there," he said, and after a moment the youth moved away, shrugging completely out of the cloak as he stepped into Severus's bedroom.

Severus let out a long breath, passing his hand over his face. He could admit to himself now that he was curious what kissing Harry Potter would feel like, but that while seeing him stirred memories of the more erotic aspects of his nightmare, he was not attracted to the boy as such. Though he could also admit to himself that he had never before felt such compelling curiosity at the thought of kissing someone.

"So now I'm a pedophile on top of everything else?" he muttered under his breath, though he knew that wasn't the case. The boy was of legal age; more man than boy, really, and certainly above the age of consent. That didn't really help when Severus had taught the boy since he was eleven.

Then the object of his thoughts walked back into the room, and Severus looked up from where he sat with his elbows braced on his knees. "Done?" he asked, and Harry nodded. "I wonder what will happen if we both activate our mirrors at the same time," Severus mused. "Once you have cast the appropriate second spell, activate yours and I will do the same with mine." The youth nodded and draped the cloak around his form wordlessly – a few second later the front door opened and closed, and Severus exhaled again, letting his head drop forward.

"What have you gotten yourself into?" he asked himself quietly.

It turned out that activating both mirrors at the same time caused them to work like a window, both of them able to see the other but not hear any words spoken. Harry's blank expression was disconcerting, but Severus soon realized that his own customary expression was similar. When he was not showing his anger or irritation, that is.

With a nod and a curt "good night" Severus blanked his mirror, going through his nightly ablutions as usual though he felt as though he were being watched the entire time.

He left the bathroom door open that night.

It was an odd feeling, Severus decided, to know that you could be watched anytime you entered your bathroom, but he resisted the urge to activate his own mirror and check whether Harry were indeed watching him. He had invited this invasion of his privacy, and he had resolved not to intrude on Harry's any further. He would only look into Harry's mirror or dreams if asked to.

However, he felt eyes on him nearly each time he walked into his bathroom, and his dreams had an invisible presence more often than not. They were mostly nightmares – unpleasant, but expected – and once a wet dream that had Severus waking up with a hard-on for the first time in years. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it had featured Harry, and the fact that Severus had felt invisible eyes on them as they fucked had made it all the more stimulating. This time it had been Harry on the bottom, moaning under Severus as the man kissed along his many scars before penetrating him with an ease that only came in dreams.

However his erection had come about, Severus was not about to waste it, and stroked himself as he relived the sensation of sleeping with a youthful male, gasping out his completion as he pictured Harry's own passion-filled face tight with pleasure.

As he lay there in the aftermath, however, the self-disgust came, and he ripped aside the sheets and made his way to his bathroom, heedless of his nudity as he came to a stop in front of the mirror. With jerky movements he washed his hands and braced them on the sink, looking up to face himself in the mirror. His dark and disgusted expression didn't surprise him at all.

"You're a sick, twisted individual, Snape," he whispered harshly to himself before turning away and closing the door sharply behind himself.

When he entered his living room later in the morning he found a note waiting for him there.

I don't think you're sick was all it read, in familiar scrawled writing. He supposed it was meant to reassure him, but it just made him feel even worse for having a witness to his depravity. How had the boy heard what he'd said? A listening charm, perhaps – or perhaps he was capable of reading lips. Either way, Harry had clearly witnessed both the dream and its aftermath, though thankfully not Severus's masturbation session, as the bathroom mirror did not reflect his bed.

Severus was in a foul mood for the rest of the day.

That night something was different, and it wasn't hard to figure out what. Severus's dream had started with a nightmare, as so often, but rather than letting it run its course Harry had decided to participate, inserting himself into the dream and changing it until Severus's father stopped beating his young son and walked away, leaving Severus curled up against the wall with bruises already forming .

"This is familiar," Harry said softly as he crouched down next to the twelve-year-old boy, gently gathering him into his arms, and this time it was Severus clutching at Harry while crying his heart out, asking piteously why his father hated him.

"I wouldn't know," Harry replied softly, a complete reversal of their positions in that earlier dream. "But, Severus?" He tilted Severus's face to look at him. "I don't think you're hateful," he said, and gently kissed the younger boy on the forehead.

Severus sobbed and pressed into the kiss, clinging to Harry and the compassion he had never been showed before. "Why don't you?" he asked tearfully when Harry moved to hold him close.

"You're just like me," Harry murmured next to Severus's ear, eliciting a shiver from the younger boy but a quick response.

"But you hate yourself," Severus said tearfully, and Harry froze against him.

"…Yes," Harry admitted finally, sounding as though he were wrestling with something. "But I don't hate you."

"I don't hate you either," Severus replied, "but I hate myself, too. Maybe we should hate each other instead of ourselves," he said with the strange insight of a child. Harry's arms tightened around him.

"But I don't want to hate you anymore," he said quietly, and Severus buried his face in the messy hair.

"I don't want to hate you either, but I don't want you to hate yourself more."

Harry pulled back, giving Severus an intent, conflicted look. "Why don't you want me to hate myself?" he asked, seeming as though he couldn't grasp the concept.

Severus looked down and raised his small hand to trace a scar just visible under the edge of Harry's oversized t-shirt. "Because you're innocent," he said softly, his voice that of a child but his opinion that of an adult. "You haven't done anything. I have good reason to hate myself – I've tortured, killed, brewed deadly potions to secure my position in the Dark Lord's ranks; I'm the reason for my only friend's death, and an abusive teacher. All excellent reasons to hate myself. You, however… you're only seventeen. You haven't done anything you should hate yourself for."

"I killed Quirrell," Harry protested, his face shuttered.

"In self-defense," Severus pointed out, "and as far as I understand it, all you did was touch his face. You couldn't know that he would die from a simple touch."

"I got Cedric killed," Harry said then, his face even more closed-off at the reminder of that death.

"You offered to share the victory of having completed a dangerous tournament," Severus rolled his eyes. "An excellently Hufflepuff sentiment that would have been greatly appreciated all around had there not been circumstances you were unaware of. Diggory's death is on Crouch's and Pettigrew's conscience, not yours."

"I got Sirius killed," Harry forced out, averting his face with the pain of that statement.

"No," Severus sighed, "I got Black killed." Harry turned absolutely rigid, not even seeming to breathe. "You delivered your message well: 'He's got Padfoot in the place where it's hidden' was perfectly clear, and as soon as I had left the classroom I raced to my quarters to contact Albus and attempt to contact Black; I was able to reach both with little difficulty, but in the middle of our hurried conversation Albus announced that a group of students had left the Hogwarts grounds and that he would call together the Order. Black insisted on joining them in going to your aid, which led to an argument between the two of us that I ended with a snide comment that he should just stay in his doghouse, since that was all he was good for. In retrospect I realize that Albus would most likely have been able to persuade him to stay at Order Headquarters had I not riled him up, and he rushed headlong into danger.

"The blame for your own rash decision to walk straight into a clear trap with a small group of students can also be laid squarely at my feet," Severus sighed. "I weakened your mind throughout the year, enabling the Dark Lord to plant that vision in your mind, and as I did not contact you again immediately to reassure you that Black was safe you felt you had no choice but to rely on yourself. After all, the adults weren't any help," he said, the disparagement for his own actions clear in his voice, and Harry finally faced him again with a torn expression.

"I got my parents killed," he offered, but Severus's suddenly thunderous expression silenced him.

"I got your parents killed," Severus snarled, ripping out of the embrace and moving away to stand with his back to Harry. "Or Trelawney, if you prefer, for making the prophecy in the first place. You weren't even born yet, for God's sake," he spat, self-hatred heavy in his heart.

Then arms came up around him, and Harry was hugging him from behind, burying his face in his shoulder. "I'm sorry," he whispered, holding Severus close.

"What are you sorry for?" Severus asked, suddenly just feeling hollow and tired.

"I'm sorry that you're taking all my burdens onto yourself," Harry replied shakily. Severus sighed.

"They're my burdens to carry," he replied simply, and felt Harry shake his head abruptly.

"No," the boy denied, "They're not, they're Voldemort's, they're all Voldemort's! Don't you see," he turned Severus around forcefully, gripping him by the shoulders and giving him as intense a look as Severus had ever been subjected to, "he's the reason for everything that's happened to us! Well, maybe not your father and the Dursleys, but the end of your friendship with my mum, you becoming a Death Eater and a spy, the prophecy, my parents' deaths, Quirrell, the Basilisk, Sirius in Azkaban and later his death, Cedric's death, everything – everything! It's all his fault!"

The boy was panting after getting that all out in a few breaths, the force of his conviction stunning Severus into silence.

"But-" he began weakly, and Harry cut him off immediately.

"No buts," he said forcefully. "I'm right, and you know it. Had Tom Riddle never been born, none of those things would have happened!"

Severus stared at Harry, stunned beyond words. Then, "Who is Tom Riddle?"

Now Harry stared back. "You never knew Voldemort's true name?"

"True name?" Severus asked, shocked. Wasn't the Dark Lord's true name Lord Voldemort?

"Tom Marvolo Riddle," Harry replied, looking wide-eyed at the younger version of his professor. "It rearranges to read 'I am Lord Voldemort'. He was a half-blood Head Boy fifty years ago."

Severus rocked back on his heels, shocked beyond words. "Why doesn't anyone know this?" he whispered finally, not even thinking to doubt Harry's words. "He would lose nearly all of his followers if it was proven that he's but a half-blood…"

"I figured everyone knew but never spoke of it," Harry said, clearly just as stunned as Severus. "I found out in my second year, and only because Riddle told me himself."

"He told you-?"

Harry frowned slightly. "You do know what happened in my second year, right? Chamber of Secrets opened by a possessed Ginny, Basilisk roaming the school, eventually Ron and me going down into the chamber and killing the Basilisk, destroying the diary that had been possessing Ginny, and finding out only later that the diary had been a Horcrux – a soul container of Voldemort's..?"

"I had not known that Weasley was possessed by the Dark Lord, nor that he made a Horcrux," Severus replied, numb with shock. "And you conversed with it?"

"He made more than one Horcrux," Harry said, his frown still present. "Why didn't Dumbledore tell you this? We've been hunting them, and we think Nagini is the last one left…"

Severus made a strangled noise. "I'll kill him," he said with dangerous conviction.

"Who? Dumbledore?" Harry looked both confused and alarmed.

"Harry," Severus said as calmly as he could, ignoring the tiny tremble to his voice, "every time I follow a Summons I have the chance to kill that bloody snake in a completely untraceable way, with a perfect alibi, and Albus bloody Dumbledore doesn't trust me enough to mention it? I could severely decimate Death Eater ranks by mentioning in confidence to Lucius that I found out about the Dark Lord's background, but Albus doesn't deem it important enough to mention?" He realized he was trembling and fisted his hands. "Is he really trying to win this war, or is he just playing around?"

It was clearly Harry's turn to be shocked speechless. "I always thought you knew," he whispered finally, and Severus slammed his Occlumency down as firmly as he could.

"I didn't."

He could see the very instant Harry made up his mind, and the boy stood with a conflicted expression. "I'll meet you again tomorrow night, and I'll tell you everything I know from the beginning. Don't go to Dumbledore just yet; let's exchange information first."

Severus nodded tightly, and the dream faded, leaving Severus awake in his bed – and absolutely furious.

"Dream," came the soft whisper as Severus swept by Harry in the classroom that day, and only many years of practice kept Severus from missing a step.

Harry was inviting him into his dreams.

Why? Perhaps he thought he would have more control over the setting and situation in his own mind, Severus reasoned as he inspected a Ravenclaw's potion and deemed it acceptable. After all, Harry had proposed telling him everything 'from the beginning', and that would most likely be simpler in his own mind rather than someone else's.

Was it wrong of him to look forward to it so much?

The next time Severus woke in his bed, it was not with fury but deep contemplation. They had not been able to discuss everything in one sitting – it was far too much for that – but the revelations of the night were such that Severus had found himself shocked time and again.

How had Harry survived everything he had been through?

As they continued to meet nightly and discuss Harry's life and their joint knowledge of Voldemort, Severus found his respect for the young man increasing steadily. He could no longer think of Harry as a child, for it had rapidly become clear to him that this student had had as carefree a childhood as Severus himself. At least Severus hadn't been locked up and starved, as he realized Harry had. Not that Harry said so; it was just little comments he made that let Severus piece together what his life before Hogwarts might have been like. At least Severus had had a friend and some freedom.

Then his time at Hogwarts – Severus had snorted when Harry had confessed that they'd thought in their first year that Severus was the one after the stone, and while he appreciated Minerva's apparent trust in him, he couldn't believe that she merely waved off the three students that clearly had valid concerns. The years after had been just as… adventurous, and Severus was livid that Albus had known Black was innocent the entire time and not told him. He might not have wanted to believe it, of course – he did know his character, unfortunately – but then he might not have made such an utter fool of himself. He did apologize to Harry, but the youth seemed far more concerned about the triple stunner that had given Severus a concussion.

And that was a revelation that blew away the last of Severus's misconceptions: That Harry was self-absorbed. He appeared to be the very opposite; he worried about others too much, to the extent that he tried not to make any friends past the ones he already had. That he didn't let those he already had too close wasn't worry, but self-defense, and Severus could understand that perfectly.

With his mounting respect, however, came awakening desire, and Severus wasn't sure how to deal with that, so he mostly repressed it. But he couldn't do that in his dreams, and he felt more disgusted with himself each time he woke after a wet dream knowing Harry had seen it as well. He was beginning to accept that most of the things he hated himself for could be laid at the Dark Lord's feet, but this was something that came entirely of him – and he hated himself for it.

Hated himself each time he got hard thinking of Harry, hated himself each time he saw the student and wondered what it would be like to kiss him for real, hated himself each time he dreamt of having the youth in ways he shouldn't be allowed to even consider.

And worse, he knew that Harry knew it.

DREAM, was scrawled quite clearly in the top right corner of Harry's essay, there where Severus usually wrote the student's grade. Another thing that made Severus hate himself: The sense of anticipation when Harry invited him into his mind. He pushed the feeling away firmly and marked the essay, magically erasing the word and scrawling Harry's grade there in red ink. An Exceeds Expectation – he almost thought that Harry was putting more work into his Potions essays now. Severus didn't think he'd ever given him an E before.

That evening Severus took a shower, and tried very hard to shake the feeling of eyes watching him when he stepped into sight of the mirror, wet and dripping and making every effort not to get hard. He absolutely refused to masturbate anywhere near the mirror, never having found out whether Harry was just capable of reading lips or had a listening spell on the mirror; if there was a spell any sounds Severus made would most likely be picked up, and it was bad enough that Harry saw his dreams each night.

Drying off and settling into bed, Severus tried to calm his mind for some time before initiating the spell dragging his mind to Harry's.

He found himself in the Head Boy's bedroom, Harry standing in the doorway to the bathroom and looking at the mirror. "Hey," the youth said, turning with a tiny smile. Severus frowned slightly; he seemed apprehensive about something.

"Has something occurred?" he asked, and Harry shook his head immediately.

"No, don't worry," the teen replied, smiling more easily and walking up to Severus. "Have a seat. I'm afraid I can only offer you the bed, unless we go into the living room…"

"That would perhaps be preferable," Severus inclined his head, moving in the direction of the living room. He did not think he would be able to concentrate if he sat on a bed with Harry, and grimaced inwardly at his lack of self-control.

Taking a seat on the couch, he looked up at his standing companion. "You will not sit?"

For some reason the youth took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "I will," he replied, and smoothly straddled Severus on the couch.

"Harry-" Severus began sharply, but Harry silenced him with a finger to the lips and an entreating look.

"Listen, Severus, I… I know I'm messed up and not much to look at and a lot more inexperienced than you, but… you want me anyway, don't you?"

Severus felt like his face was carved from stone, but he couldn't deny that entreating, almost desperate gaze. "Yes," he confirmed curtly, and Harry exhaled sharply, slumping forward to rest his forehead against Severus's shoulder.

"I want to be wanted," he confessed quietly, and Severus's heart tightened at the whispered confession identical to the one he had never voiced. "Please," Harry's voice broke, and he shifted slightly so that his forehead rested in the spot where Severus's neck met his shoulder, "please," he whispered, his breath warm on Severus's skin.

And Severus knew he couldn't deny him, wrong though it may be for him to have someone so pure. "Alright," he said just as quietly, reaching up to cup the base of Harry's head with one hand and moving the other to rest on the young man's lower back. "Alright."

The dynamics of their interactions changed, then. It was entirely surreal to berate and put down a defiant young man in class only to hold and kiss him later the same day, even if it was only in their minds. They were both starved for touch, and though Severus hated himself for it, he initiated physical contact as often as Harry did, anything from a simple touch to intercourse. He wasn't sure whether they were feeling true physical pleasure during those times, but the way they clutched at each other, emotions spilling over as they connected in the basest of ways, was still somehow more satisfying than any previous sexual encounter of his.

More guilt-ridden as well, however. No matter how well he hid it, he couldn't take Harry without feeling guilty for it; while he enjoyed being taken, the feeling of laying on top of the young, willing man, being welcomed openly into his body, was intoxicating.

However, there was always something missing, and Severus's heart clenched when one night he undressed Harry to find that this time, he hadn't hidden his scars.

"Ah," he exhaled, a complicated smile on his face as he lightly traced a scar on Harry's chest, causing the younger man to shiver. "I had hoped that you would stop covering these up soon," he whispered before bending and carefully passing his lips over one of Harry's many scars, slowly mapping out the crossed lines and only venturing lower when he had satisfied himself that he had covered them all. He had never put his mouth to another man's member before, but Harry was already so close to the edge by then that a tentative suck on the head was enough to set him off, Severus drinking down the seed that had no taste in dreamscape; perhaps because Severus didn't know what kind of taste it was supposed to have.

Harry stirred as if to reciprocate, but Severus pushed him gently down into the mattress. "Sleep, Harry," he said, and once the dreamscape began to change into another Severus let himself drift back into his own mind, and into nightmares of the wizarding world condemning him for using their Golden Boy for his own sick desires.

A few nights later, the two of them decided that they had (after much procrastination) finally shared all the information they had on the Dark Lord with each other.

"Then I will approach Lucius with the information I have now," Severus said, gently carding his fingers through Harry's unruly hair as they sat on the couch in Severus's living room – in dreamscape, of course, but it was pleasant nonetheless, no matter how wrong Severus felt it was to see his yellowed skin touching Harry's soft hair.

"I do believe that it will estrange a great many of the Dark Lord's followers, and once the Dark Lord is confused and weakened I will carefully take out Nagini. Once that is done, he should be mortal and vulnerable to attack, and we can plan an assassination." He locked eyes with Harry, and the youth leaned in for a fierce kiss.

"We'll both be free," Harry whispered against his lips, and Severus felt himself smile before kissing him back just as fiercely.

That evening Severus welcomed Lucius into his quarters with open arms.

"Lucius, I'm glad you could make it."

"Of course, Severus," the older man replied with a shrewd look in his eye. "You intimated that you have some… interesting information to share with me; how could I not find the time to join you?"

Severus allowed his lips to curve into a dark smile. "Of course, of course – a drink?"

"A dram of scotch whiskey, if you have it," Lucius replied as he elegantly sank into an armchair, his cane casually laid across his knees. Severus poured them each a glass of Lucius's favorite whiskey – he never drank it himself, but he kept it around for the exceedingly rare occasions that Lucius stopped by.

"Lucius, my old friend," Severus said, sitting down and leaning forward with an intent look. They weren't friends, of course, but the Death Eaters had a habit of referring to each other familiarly. "I recently came across some… disturbing information, and I wondered if you had heard of it before…"

Lucius hummed. "I have heard of a great many things, but perhaps you would elaborate..?" He sipped delicately from his glass, and Severus waited until he had swallowed before asking smoothly,

"Have you heard of one Tom Marvolo Riddle?"

Lucius hummed again, more quietly. "I cannot say that I have," he said mildly as he swilled the drink in his glass. "Should I have?"

"I am afraid so," Severus said carefully, "for I have heard that he goes by the name of Lord Voldemort."

Severus was able to report to Harry with grim satisfaction that the meeting had gone exactly as he had expected. Confronted with the proper evidence – and the reminder that he himself had been in the possession of the diary of Tom Marvolo Riddle – Lucius had retired to discuss the information with his wife, which Severus knew meant that the rest of the Death Eaters, and unmarked supporters besides, would soon know about their Lord's humble background. Lucius had been incensed to find out that he had been bowing to the half-blood bastard of a common Muggle and an inbred witch with little more magical power than a squib, and though Severus wondered how the man had never put together that the diary their Lord had entrusted to him was their Lord's own diary, the final result was as he had wanted.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men… Severus later found himself in a private audience with his Lord, the two elder Malfoys looking on as Severus kneeled at the Dark Lord's feet, trying yet again to sweet-talk his way out of a sticky situation.

"My Lord, I know not what Lucius has told you, but I asked him to Hogwarts for a private discussion concerning some information Dumbledore had presented to me; I knew not whether it was the fanciful imaginations of an old man or an elegant case of misinformation, and wished to check with your right-hand man before bringing it to your attention. I meant no insubordination," Severus bowed his head over his bent knee before looking up once more. "The aging Headmaster presented to me a story that seemed more imagination than fact, and I presented it to Lucius accordingly, concerned that there may be someone spreading misinformation and that Lucius, with his numerous contacts, might find out the truth of the matter more easily than I." He was thankful, now, that he had indeed presented the information to Lucius with a somewhat doubting tone, hoping that Lucius would look into the matter and find it to be truth. He had not expected Lucius to simply play him and turn around and offer him up to the Dark Lord without a second thought. Had he already known? The Lucius Malfoy Severus had thought he knew would never have stood for bowing to a half-blood, for all that he treated Severus civilly enough.

"Lucius did not present your conversation to me in the same light, Severus," the Dark Lord said, his voice dangerously light. "Are you suggesting he lied to his Lord?"

"My Lord, I only fear that my words may not have been measured enough for him to recognize my doubt," Severus parried smoothly, holding the red gaze. "If it would reassure you to look at our conversation yourself, you know that as always, my mind is yours."

The Dark Lord hummed, but didn't use Legilimency just yet. Severus had found that alone the offer of an open mind was often enough to reassure the Dark Lord, but had of course prepared his mind sufficiently in advance so that not even such a powerful Legilimens as his marked Lord could spy a stray thought or memory of Harry in his mind.

"What say you, Lucius?" The Dark Lord asked his right-hand man, and Severus waited to see how his 'friend' would talk his way out of this. Lucius was an accomplished smooth-talker himself, after all.

"It appears that I may have misunderstood my friend's intentions," Lucius said, his gaze resting on Severus's kneeling form. "Perhaps Severus would present once more the information he was given."

The Dark Lord seemed to agree, and Severus was careful to present the information the same way he had to Lucius: Carefully.

Rather than being crushed by the setback, Harry seemed to be in awe of Severus's skills. Severus had recreated as closely as possible the audience with the Dark Lord in that night's dreamscape, and he knew that his acting skills were excellent, but for some reason he found himself blushing as Harry declared him "wicked" and "bloody brilliant".

"Anyway," he cut off Harry as the youth appeared to be about to start up again, "this is a setback in terms of weakening the Dark Lord's support base, and I will be more closely watched in the future, but I see no great complications in our plan to take out Nagini. Unless you have a better idea?"

"I was thinking…" Harry said, settling down pensively. "What does Nagini eat? Can her food be poisoned, cursed – anything that kills her after she eats?"

"I was thinking precisely along those lines," Severus replied promptly. "I have a suitable meal already prepared, and planned on leaving it in an appropriate place the next time I respond to a Summons."

Harry licked his lips, and Severus couldn't stop the way his eyes briefly darted down at the sight of a moist tongue before giving himself a mental shake. "I was thinking that I could have a house elf leave it while you're in the meeting," Harry offered, "and then you can honestly say that you have no idea who did it."

Severus paused to turn the suggestion over in his mind. "You know of a suitable elf that you trust with such a vital task?"

Harry bit his lip but nodded. "I have complete trust in this particular elf," he said, and was visibly surprised when Severus conceded the point without argument.

"Then I will ensure that the parcel reaches you with the appropriate instructions."

"Great," Harry said, a slow smile dawning on his face. "By the way," he said, moving closer to whisper in Severus's ear, "activate your mirror tonight, at 10 PM. I'll see you then." With a warm kiss to the spot below Severus's ear he faded away, leaving Severus to slip into regular dreams that now were nightmares less frequently than before.

Severus would have denied it to anyone except Harry, but he spent the day with a slow-burning arousal and curiosity that filled his thoughts, forcing him to keep a tight hold on his Occlumency or end up watching Harry in ways that would be highly suspicious should anyone notice. He found it so hard to keep from reaching out to the student in the halls, giving him a brief touch to his hair when he did something well in class, or watch him during meals. It was torture to continue treating him despicably in class, particularly now that the student was putting real effort into his brews and essays – something Severus was careful to praise him on when they were in private, since the improvement was marked and extremely touching since Severus didn't think Harry had any personal interest in the subject.

But this day, his thoughts were consumed with the sweet invitation Harry had issued the previous night. Severus had not activated his mirror once even though he had been sorely tempted multiple times, so for Harry to give him permission… he was dying of curiosity. What did the young man have planned?

At 10 PM on the dot Severus activated his mirror to find that Harry had not yet entered the bathroom; the door was closed, but a minute later it opened. Harry clearly already had his mirror activated – Severus wondered if he left the spell permanently active – and gave Severus a cheeky smile that seemed to hold a bit of apprehension and anticipation. Closing the door behind him, Harry stepped up to the mirror and touched a finger to it.

WATCH ME, Harry wrote so that Severus could read it the right way around, then picked up his wand and cancelled the spell on his mirror with a smile that Severus would swear was positively seductive.

Then the young man began stripping, not quite putting on a show but certainly undressing teasingly slowly, exposing his scarred body bit by bit – Severus supposed he had removed the glamor before entering the bathroom. Fighting the feeling that he shouldn't be watching, shouldn't be allowed to, Severus stared as creamy skin was revealed, skin that never had a taste in dreamscape but he was sure would taste delicious when flushed and sweaty beneath him. Swallowing hard when Harry stood naked before him, clearly more than half-hard already, Severus realized he was breathing heavily at the mere sight of his naked dream-lover.

Harry's chest was also rising more rapidly than usual, his eyes fluttering half-shut as he lightly ran the tips of his fingers over his cock, the slight opening of his mouth making Severus groan quietly. Harry's eyes slid shut, a slight smile playing on his lips as he let his head loll back and brought his left hand up to lightly brush against a nipple, an inaudible huffed breath leaving his lips at the contact. Severus was nearly panting now, fully erect himself and mesmerized by the sight of the beautiful young man touching himself for him – for he had no doubts as to whom this little show was for.

Then Harry opened his eyes and licked his bottom lip, not looking in the direction of the mirror as he took his hands from his body and walked to the shower stall.

"Oh, dear Lord," Severus breathed, taking a step back and leaning against the smooth door. His breathing was decidedly heavy now, imagining Harry touching himself under flowing water, rivulets of water running down that beautiful body and his hair hanging wetly around his face…

A moment later Harry turned on the water and Severus shivered when Harry leaned over deliberately to test the temperature, presenting his backside to the mirror where Severus could get a perfect view of it. It was shockingly easy to remember that it was a virgin hole even though Severus had taken it often enough in their dreams, and he couldn't hold back the slightly gasped breath that escaped him.

Then Harry stepped under the water, leaving the shower curtain open so that Severus could have a perfect view – and what an erotic view it was. How such a simple act as wetting one's hair could be so erotic was beyond Severus, but the way Harry's mouth opened slightly as he tipped back his head into the spray, water running down the smooth planes of his body…

Harry showered normally, but again with that teasing thoroughness that he had applied when undressing, carefully shampooing his hair with motions that Severus would swear shouldn't be erotic but had him unable to tear his eyes away, washing every part of his body with a slick, soapy thoroughness that left his skin gleaming, his eyes always half-open or fully closed and his expression closer to what it was during sex than at any other time.

And then his hands, slick with soap, began touching his body in earnest, still teasing Severus but with more purpose than the idle washing they had done before. One wandered up to his neck and Harry's head lolled back in pleasure, biting his lip as the hand wandered lower, down over his collarbone to ghost over a nipple and Harry made a silent sound of pleasure that Severus gave voice to, those fingers insistently circling the pebbling nipple while his right hand moved slowly, teasingly, to finger the base of Harry's cock, the youth twitching and gasping softly in reaction, Severus reacting the same way as his own fingers ghosted over his covered member.

Then Harry's head rolled to the side, an inaudible moan leaving his lips as he opened lust-filled eyes to look at the mirror; not quite meeting Severus's eyes as he couldn't see him, but the invitation was clear and Severus complied, not taking his eyes off his flushed lover as he opened his trousers and began touching himself as Harry was.

He couldn't hear the sounds Harry made, nor the sound of running water, but his own gasps, moans, and even whimpers filled the silence of his bathroom as he touched himself, consumed by the sight of his young lover as he pleasured himself, silent murmurs leaving his lips that Severus knew to be his name, touching himself first teasingly, then increasingly desperately as the fire grew, both of them panting with their heads thrown back and hands playing over warm flesh, heated words echoing in the silence of Severus's bathroom until first Harry, then Severus a second later came with a stuttered cry and finished with spurts of semen coating their hands and the closest surfaces.

"Oh, God," Severus groaned roughly when Harry half-opened his eyes and lifted his semen-coated hand to his mouth, delicately licking at the thick fluid. Nearly without realizing he was doing it Severus copied him, tasting himself and finding the taste strange and too warm, but wanting – desperately – to taste Harry. Letting his hand sink, he watched, compelled, as Harry slipped his pointer finger into his mouth and sucked, sending another jolt of lust straight to Severus's groin.

"God, you're amazing," he breathed, and shuddered when Harry closed his eyes and licked all the way up his finger in response.

And then, with deliberate slowness, Harry bent over and ran his fingers down the curve of his arse, Severus first catching his breath then groaning deeply as Harry delicately traced a circle around the puckered hole that Severus had been in but never in real life – and pushed a single finger in.

"Harry," Severus groaned, his breath stuttering as his head fell back against the door and his cock began to harden once more, the wanton sight before him almost too much for his mind to handle.

"Severus," Harry moaned inaudibly, arching his back as he slowly, carefully inserted his finger deeper into his body before pulling it back just as slowly, throwing his head back with open eyes and a startled gasp as he clearly brushed over his prostate.

"The prostate," Severus said in a strangled voice, "I don't think you could feel it in the dreams, but-" he panted at the sight of Harry clutching at the shower curtain with his free hand as he pushed his finger back in, "but I want to hit that, hit it with me inside you," Harry shuddered visibly and bit his lip, and Severus abruptly had the feeling that Harry could hear him even without the mirror activated, and might have in fact been listening to him the entire time, and his eyes widened.

He didn't want to ask if Harry could hear him, but he did want to know – so just before Harry pulled back out he let out a husky moan, his cock hardening further when Harry's breath stuttered and he grasped more tightly at the shower curtain, and Severus knew that it was purely in reaction to his voice. And God, what a rush that gave him.

Harry clearly wanted to pump his finger properly, but Severus knew from his own curious attempt in the past that Harry would have little luck without lube. "There's a spell," he choked out, "for water-proof lubricant. Left-handed, inscribe a circle over the fingers you wish to lubricate and say 'Conlubet'." Harry immediately stepped out of the shower, heedless of the water running off him, and picked up his wand; a second later the fingers of his right hand glistened with a liquid that wasn't water.

Looking up at the mirror, Harry's eyes burned with sharp anticipation before he bent over right there and easily slid his middle finger into his anus, Severus only able to make a choked sound at the sudden view he had of Harry's lower back and the hand resting between the round cheeks.

"I want- show me your face, Harry," he panted out, enjoying the view but needing to see Harry's face, wanting to see him gasp in ecstasy at the feel of his prostate being stimulated, his helplessly open expression as he imagined Severus inside him, his face when he came. And immediately Harry moved back into the shower, the hot water pouring off him as he bent over and began pumping in earnest, shuddering and gasping under the sensations of a finger against his prostate and Severus's voice as the man watched and touched himself, hearing only his own noises but knowing that Harry would hear more.

"So close," Severus gasped, feeling himself teeter on the brink of orgasm. "Come with me, Harry, touch yourself," and Harry complied, steadying himself against the wall as he pulled out his finger and gripped his dripping member instead, pulling jerkily and being pushed over the edge by Severus's strangled completion, both of them coming together for the second time.

"God," Severus breathed, trying to get his racing heart under control. "I just want to kiss you senseless right now." Harry laughed breathlessly, and Severus thought he might have said something along the lines of 'I already am senseless' as he collapsed in the shower, his delicate frame shaking in the aftermath of the two most intense orgasms either of them had ever had.

Severus huffed a slight laugh as well, unsure he could even form a coherent thought after what they had just done. "Thank you, Harry," he said earnestly, his voice rough with sex. "That was… amazing."

Harry looked over at the mirror and grinned cheekily. "You're welcome," Severus understood. Then Harry held up his right hand and raised his eyebrows at him, clearly asking how to get the lube back off if it was waterproof, and Severus couldn't help but laugh.

Somehow, their relationship took a turn for the better with that act. Harry confessed that night that he hadn't cut a single time since he got together with Severus, and with that the Potions Master knew that he couldn't, wouldn't feel guilty for something that was clearly good for the youth, no matter how wrong it seemed. Perhaps he didn't deserve someone so young and pure, and perhaps the entire world would be against it – but if it helped this young man whom he had so wronged in the past, then Severus wouldn't fight it any longer.

Instead, he turned his mind to fighting where he was honor-bound to. He ensured that the untraceably poisoned meal for Nagini reached Harry and attended the next Summons with particularly careful Occlumentic preparation, waiting on tenterhooks until he was summoned again the following day to check Nagini's dead body for poisons.

"There are no traces of any poisons, my Lord," Severus frowned as he cast spells over the snake's corpse. "However, there are several poisons that leave no trace, some of which are quick and others that take months to kill the victim. She had not been sick or weak prior to her death?"

"No," the Dark Lord answered curtly, and Severus knew he had to be careful or risk an extended round of Cruciatus for displeasing his master.

"Then a fast-acting poison is most likely, presumably in her food supply. Was she fed yesterday?" He looked up at his lord from his kneeling position by the snake and was briefly tempted to attempt to take the wizard's life… a thought that he forced from his mind just as quickly as it had appeared, knowing that he was no match for his marked master and that, were the prophecy to be believed, Harry was the only one capable of killing the man.

In the end, Lucius was the one who bore the brunt of the Dark Lord's displeasure, the house elves having testified that a Malfoy elf had fed the snake the previous day as usual. Severus was left wondering how Harry knew a Malfoy elf, let alone had managed to get it to poison one of Lord Malfoy's guests – and was dumbfounded when he was told the answer later. As soon as he realized what Harry had done he roared with laughter, deeply appreciating the cunning Harry had shown in sending a former Malfoy elf to poison Nagini. Apparently Dobby the house elf still could enter Malfoy Manor and was on friendly terms with the elves there.

Then, suddenly, the Christmas Holidays arrived, and Severus found himself in a surprisingly good mood. He always enjoyed seeing the students leave, and unlike other years where the simple fact that Potter wouldn't be leaving was enough to ruin his mood, this year he was looking forward to it. Granger and Weasley would be leaving for the holidays, along with most of the student body – and Severus planned on spending some actual, physical time with his dream lover.

They would have to be discreet, of course, but both of them had spent far too many years wandering the castle at night to be caught. If, indeed, they ever left Severus's rooms.

The first breakfast after the students left Severus surprised his colleagues by attending – he usually locked himself up in his rooms as soon as the brats were gone and didn't emerge except for Christmas breakfast. He simply smirked and said that he had decided to enjoy the unusual quiet of the Great Hall before retiring for the holidays, wishing them a pleasant week with a drawl before sweeping out.

It truly was pleasantly quiet, he mused as he made his way to his quarters, giving the password as usual when he reached his door and entering his living room. As soon as the door closed behind him, however, he spun around, grabbing an invisible figure and pushing it up against the wall.

"Well, well, well, who have we here..?" he said lowly as he pressed his body up against that of his captive, pinning the shorter figure against the rough stone. His hands easily found delicate wrists and immobilized them, leaning forward until his head was positioned next to an invisible head.

"The next time you decide to wander the halls invisibly you may care to remember a silencing charm cast at your feet," he murmured into the student's ear, smirking at Harry's dismayed exhale. "Alternatively, you could learn to walk more quietly. Or simply not attempt to tail a spy." Leaning back, he pulled the cloak off the young man and felt his smirk soften into a smile. Harry's resigned dismay was just too cute.

"Welcome," Severus whispered and took Harry's lips in a kiss, tasting the youth for the first time and finally feeling the true softness of his lips, the heat of his body and their height difference in a way their dreams had never reflected. With a puff of breath Harry opened his mouth and their breaths mingled, tongues touching and tasting both the breakfast they had just eaten and the underlying taste of the other, the taste of Harry musky and sweet and intoxicating to a point that Severus felt he would be content to spend all day simply tasting this young man.

However, only a few minutes had elapsed when Harry bit down lightly on Severus's lip, pushing up against the man. "My neck is starting to hurt," he whispered against the man's lips, and Severus was suddenly reminded that kissing while standing would not be as comfortable for his shorter lover as it was for him.

"Come with me," he whispered back, giving Harry's lip one last lick before pulling away and leading Harry to his bedroom by the arm he still held, the invisibility cloak half-covering the student but soon tossed over a chair as Severus pushed Harry onto his bed.

"Shoes off," was the only thing he bothered to say before they were in each other's arms, continuing the kiss that would, eventually, lead them to other activities. They weren't in a hurry.

The rest of the day was blissful; Severus simply had no other word for it. Never before had he spent an entire day in bed with someone, kissing, eating, touching, sometimes talking about nothing in particular, then falling asleep in each other's arms, warm and secure in a way Severus had never felt before. To wake together and make love, Severus carefully preparing Harry before taking him for the first time, was… beautiful.

They lay there, utterly spent and unable to move, until Harry summoned the strength to turn slightly in Severus's limp embrace and press a tired kiss to the man's shoulder.

"That was amazing," he said, and his voice was hoarse and sated in a way Severus had never heard before.

"Yes," he agreed, and somehow dredged up just enough energy to give Harry a lingering kiss before collapsing again. "That it was." And though it was too hot and wet and uncomfortable, they both fell asleep again.

They would have been content to spend the entire holiday that way, but the next day Severus had to break away from Harry when his Mark burned, the usual pained grimace appearing on his face as he scrambled to get dressed.

"I will return as soon as I am able," he said hurriedly as he pulled on his layers, using a quick spell to fasten all the buttons simultaneously. Then he was out the door, rushing to the fireplace and flooing directly to Malfoy Manor – a connection enabled by both Albus and Lucius, each for different reasons. Thankfully, it ensured that Severus was never late in reacting to his lord's call.

Harder than getting dressed, however, was bringing up his Occlumency and hiding all mention of Harry, and Severus had not quite finished yet when he entered the throne room, white mask firmly over his face.

"Severusss," the Dark Lord hissed, and a flash of his wand was the only warning Severus had before their eyes locked and a battering ram hit his mind, only years of practice and preparation enabling Severus to shove aside his protections and allow his lord entry even while he rushed to pull up images to suggest he had been reading and brewing while deeply burying all possible hints at what he had truly been doing. A distant part of his mind realized that he hadn't used a freshening spell or glamor before coming and he pulled up a memory, modifying it just slightly to make it seem as though he had just finished with a woman before following his master's call, and to his surprise that memory seemed to placate the Dark Lord, satisfaction briefly filling his mind before the foreign probe was gone.

Severus swayed at the abrupt return to physical awareness, but caught himself quickly and moved to take his place in the circle. Kneeling, he shut his eyes and breathed deeply in an attempt to center himself; whenever the Dark Lord forced his way into his mind it left him feeling raw and on edge.

The meeting progressed as any other from there, and when Severus left with orders to capture Potter and kill Dumbledore it seemed that the Dark Lord had had no particular reason for attacking his mind. He had, however, given Severus an idea…

From that point on, Harry and Severus didn't spend all of their time in bed, much as they might have liked to; instead, they trained.

Using a fantastic room that Severus hadn't even heard about before Harry told him all about his adventures, they practiced dueling and fighting, stealth and concealment. For the Dark Lord's orders had given Severus a marvelously cunning idea as to how to kill the wizard.

"There is a potion," he had explained his idea to Harry, "that, for an hour, splits one person into two. At the end of the hour they merge back into one, retaining all the memories and sensations each experienced during the elapsed time. Highly illegal, of course – but, combined with a dose of Polyjuice Potion, could very well end this once and for all…"

The premise was a simple one: Severus would drink the Gemini Potion, then one of him would drink Polyjuice Potion with one of Harry's hairs added to it. Severus, with pseudo-Harry as his captive, would go to Malfoy Manor to report to the Dark Lord while Dobby popped Harry directly into the throne room under his invisibility cloak and a silencing spell. While the Dark Lord was distracted by Severus and the captured Harry Potter, the real Harry would attack him from behind with a poisoned dagger to the heart and a cutting spell to the neck, which hopefully would finish the wizard off, and if any Death Eaters were around the double Severus would have to deal with them. Severus would give Dobby very serious orders to get Harry out of there as soon as the Dark Lord was dead, but if anything went wrong Harry needed to be able to defend himself, which was why they were training.

Thankfully, Harry was already extremely competent in the basics of street dueling, and only truly needed to learn more powerful and effective spells instead of relying on useless spells such as Stupefy or Expelliarmus. And so Severus taught him, and they found that their intense duels often resulted in something else just as intense but far more pleasurable. Teaching had never been so much fun.

On Christmas morning Severus awoke before Harry did, and spent some minutes simply watching his sleeping lover. He didn't remember what he had dreamed, but somehow it had left him in a deeply introspective and grateful mood. "How you have changed me," he whispered, gently brushing aside a lock of hair that clung to Harry's cheek, the raven hair even messier when tousled from sleep. Almost reverently Severus leaned in and ghosted his lips over Harry's, open in sleep and still swollen from the night before. Severus couldn't even imagine living without this man anymore, couldn't imagine returning to the solitary routine he'd lived before; couldn't imagine being the person he'd been before. Harry had changed him, irrevocably.

Thank God for Harry, Severus thought as he shifted to lay on his younger lover, gazing down into the open face. Thank God I was such a fool and linked our mirrors, Severus bent to trail his lips down Harry's warm neck. Thank God I used the spell to enter his dreams.

He wasn't even religious – it was more a phrase he had picked up from the Evans family than anything else – but as he made his way down Harry's body he felt closer to believing in a higher power than ever before. And he admitted to himself that he was, without any room for doubt or denial, in love with Harry Potter.

And as he took Harry's cock into his mouth, causing Harry to awaken with a startled moan, he realized that he no longer felt at all guilty about it.

They opened their presents together that morning: Harry had, as was apparently usual, received gifts from the Weasleys, Granger, and Hagrid, while Severus had, as was also usual, received nothing. And so he sat with a cup of tea and watched Harry open his presents, content to be included in the process by Harry's exclamations and happy jokes but wishing that he, too, had friends who would bother to give him even the half-assed present Ronald Weasley had given Harry.

Only after Harry had finished with the gifts from his close friends did they exchange presents, each of them somehow having found something for the other. It didn't escape Severus's notice that the only two people to ever give him a Christmas present were Lily Evans and her son, the former his best friend and the other his lover.

Harry insisted that Severus open his presents first – for Harry had gotten him more than one – and Severus unwrapped the first tiny package with his heart beating far faster than he supposed was normal. The wrapping paper removed, a small box as if for a ring was revealed, and Severus thought he may have stopped breathing. His heart in his throat, he removed the lid from the box, and saw a ring… of hair.

"For the Polyjuice Potion," Harry grinned mischievously, and Severus's breath whooshed out of him in disbelief.

"You-" he began impotently, unsure what he wanted to say until he put the box aside and pounced on Harry, tickling him until tears streamed down the young man's face and he begged for mercy. Severus had discovered Harry's ticklish spots doing something entirely different, of course, but just then that knowledge proved quite useful.

Grabbing Harry's wrists and pinning them above his head, Severus leaned in close to his lover's face. "Don't you dare do that to me again," he whispered, licking a tear from Harry's chin before releasing the student and standing. The rest of the presents didn't result in quite as much excitement, though Harry kept a careful distance from Severus until they had finished opening them all.

"We should attend Christmas breakfast," Severus finally said, his reluctance clearly audible in his voice.

"Yeah," Harry agreed, and he too seemed reluctant to share the day with others. They had spent the holidays so far alone in either Severus's quarters or the Room of Requirement, never encountering another person, and the idea of having breakfast with the other occupants of the castle was not very appealing.

However, needs must, and they headed out together, Harry under his invisibility cloak and a silencing spell on his feet. They didn't enter the hall together, of course; Severus went in first, and Harry followed a few minutes later, and they spent the meal ignoring each other.

Albus was in usual good cheer, pulling crackers and donning ridiculous hats, Minerva clearly had something strong in her tea, and the few students present were mostly subdued, though Harry surprised everyone but Severus by striking up a conversation with the lone Slytherin – a first year who looked rather intimidated by the older company. They ended up having a rather lively conversation on secret passages in Hogwarts, which ended when Albus commented cheerfully that the student had best not be caught out past curfew if he did use some of the secret passageways and Severus retorted that only Gryffindors got caught out past curfew.

"And Malfoy," Harry muttered with a smirk that Severus was hard-pressed not to let show on his own face, choosing instead to pretend he hadn't heard.

"Malfoy Manor," Severus said clearly, stepping into the green flames with an overly large box in his hands – a Christmas gift for his lord.

Smoothly exiting the Floo on the other end, Severus strode to the throne room the Dark Lord could always be found in and, shifting the package (charmed to be feather-light) to one hand, knocked three times.

"Enter," came the call, and Severus opened the door to find that Lucius was with the Dark Lord, their conversation halted by the interruption.

"I apologize for coming unannounced, my Lord," Severus bowed, "but I hoped to give you… a very special Christmas gift." He smirked as he raised the box he held, and hoped his expression conveyed the smugness he wanted it to.

"Ah?" the Dark Lord enquired. "How unusual of you, Severus… or can it be that you have already completed the tasks I assigned you?"

In reply Severus simply kneeled, his smirk still in place, and set down the box. "My Lord, I completed my tasks to the best of my abilities." Removing and setting aside the lid, he raised his eyes from the sight of his unconscious lover to meet red eyes. "May I present to you Harry James Potter."


Then: "Severus, Severus," the Dark Lord said as he rose from his seat and moved closer, his voice heavy with satisfaction. "I knew this task should have been yours from the beginning, my loyal follower. You are given a task and but a week later deliver superlative results… No one is aware the boy is missing?"

"No one, my Lord," Severus said confidently. "His friends are away for the holidays, and the only other people currently at Hogwarts saw him but this morning at Christmas breakfast. He will not be missed for some time."

"Excellent," the Dark Lord hissed, a satisfied smile curving the thin, pale lips. "What of Albus Dumbledore?"

"Poisoned, my Lord," Severus said succinctly, holding that red gaze. "I felt it fitting to echo the events of last week." The other wizard's eyes tightened briefly at the mention of Nagini's death, but then the Dark Lord's expression relaxed.

"Fitting indeed," he agreed softly, his eyes finally moving from Severus's face to Harry's body where it lay in the oversized box. "You have done well, Severus. Shall we wake him?"

"As you will, my Lord."

The wand rose and levitated Harry's limp body out of the box, laying him gently on the floor by Lord Voldemort's feet. "Crucio," the wizard purred, and Harry's eyes flew open with a gasp as he jerked violently, a scream soon renting the air under the painful effects of the Cruciatus Curse. Severus tried to keep a smirk in place even as his lover's body twisted and spasmed under his master's spell, his heart hurting at the sight and knowing that the physical pain would be revisited on him later.

Then the air shimmered slightly behind the Dark Lord, a wickedly spiked dagger emerging from thin air to plunge into the wizard's unprotected back, and Severus dove to the side and cast an overpowered blasting spell at Lucius Malfoy, catching the man off guard and obliterating his entire left side.

"Why-" Lucius managed to say as he fell, vomiting blood even as his left thumb landed somewhere off to the side, Severus's cutting charm neatly severing the Pureblood's right hand from his arm even as Harry's close-range cutting charm flew towards the Dark Lord's neck – and missed.

Voldemort screamed a wide-range blasting spell, Severus and two Harrys sent flying by the force of the blast, the invisibility cloak falling off Harry and Dobby the house elf as they landed painfully on the floor.

"Dobby!" Severus roared, summoning the fallen body of his Polyjuiced self and apparating out right after he saw Dobby and Harry pop out of sight, arriving with a thud before the Hogwarts gates and praying with all his heart that the house elf had taken Harry to his quarters. Heaving the shaking pseudo-Harry to his shoulders, his prayers were answered when Dobby popped into sight before them, grabbing Severus by the wrist and popping them to the Potion Master's quarters where Harry was waiting anxiously for them.

"Are you alright?" Harry immediately asked, worry etched into his face as he jumped to take his lookalike from Severus.

"I am," Severus replied, pulling two vials from his robes and swiftly feeding them to pseudo-Harry, easing the man's post-Cruciatus spasms and putting him to sleep. "I am unsure how it will affect me when we two merge once more," he confessed, meeting Harry's worried gaze. "I am not inexperienced when it comes to this particular curse, however. I should be fine." Harry didn't look reassured, but Severus had no other reassurance to offer him. Their ploy had failed – and cost Severus his position as a spy.

"The poison might still kill him," Harry said, clearly trying to sound hopeful. "You said the dagger was highly poisonous, right?"

"Yes," Severus allowed, "but it will be of no use should he have the proper antidote, and the Dark Lord may be many things, but a fool he is not. There is little hope of him dying of such a cause." He sighed. "However, we should contact the Aurors and ensure several teams are dispatched immediately to Malfoy Manor; with the death of its lord the wards will be down and all residents within vulnerable. I suggest you contact the office through the Floo; they are more likely to listen to you than to me."

Harry smiled crookedly, knowing the truth of it. "How do I do that?" he asked, already moving towards the fireplace.

"Powder in the fire, head in the flames, clearly state 'Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic'. Ask for Madam Bones; she is the head of department, and aunt to Susan Bones, who I believe you are on friendly terms with. Inform her that there are a number of Death Eaters and potentially an injured Dark Lord at Malfoy Manor and that she should dispatch as many Aurors as possible to the manor."

"Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, Madam Bones," Harry repeated with a nod. "Got it." Kneeling on the rug before the fire, he tossed a handful of Floo powder in and contacted the Ministry of Magic, only having to wait for a minute before he was able to deliver his message to Madam Bones directly. There were certain advantages to being the Boy-Who-Lived.

"Alright," he said when he pulled his head from the fire once more, blinking at the change in vision. "Hopefully they'll get the Death Eaters, at least…" Neither of them expected Voldemort to still be there when the Aurors arrived, but if they could round up and lock up the escaped Death Eaters it would be a great blow to the Dark Lord's power base.

Sighing, Harry walked over to sit down on Severus's lap, wrapping his arms loosely around his lover and pillowing his head on the bony shoulder. Severus hugged him back and closed his eyes on the bitter feeling of failure.

The next morning brought news of the capture of a large number of Death Eaters – Harry only mentioned as an anonymous informant – which somewhat lessened their feelings of failure. That second week of the Christmas holidays they continued their training with new zeal, both of them determined that the next time, they would stand their ground and duel the Dark Lord to his death. Severus knew that he wasn't a match for the Dark Lord when it came to power, and the older wizard certainly had more experience than both Severus and Harry put together, but they decided that if they worked together, there was no reason why they shouldn't be able to take him down.

Or so they told themselves.

They did, however, work quite well together. Even without his magical core being fully developed, Harry's magic was stronger than Severus's, and so they decided that he would take point with Severus working the defense. It did mean, however, that Harry's reactions needed work – his reaction time was extremely quick, as Severus had already known from watching him play Quidditch, but the spells he fell back on when startled into action were far too basic to be at all effective.

And so Harry drilled in lethal, point-blank spells while Severus worked on his wide-range and protective spells, magical shields, delayed spells to lay traps, battle potions and rune-engraved disks of metal – anything that he thought might be useful or useable in a duel against the Dark Lord with or without Death Eaters harrying them.

The Room of Requirement proved more than useful when they trained in working together, supplying dueling dummies that attacked them – with simple spells, and no battle strategy of their own, but it did enable the two wizards to practice.

On the last day of the holidays, however, Severus suggested they bring in Filius Flitwick to assist them.

"He is a Master dueler, and we need a competent opponent to practice against," Severus pointed out as they lay in each other's arms that night. "I believe him trustworthy; I am loath to involve Albus, and Filius is not a part of the Order, nor is he the type to share information. We could certainly learn a lot from his example."

Harry agreed with him; he had always been fond of the Charms teacher, and the Head of Ravenclaw didn't seem the type to go telling anyone that Professor Snape and Mr. Potter weren't, in fact, as at odds as everyone else thought. They agreed that Severus would have a private word with him after dinner the following day, since the Charms teacher wouldn't arrive until the morning. Harry and Severus were also acutely aware of the fact that this would be the last night they could spend together this way, since the other students would return the following evening. At least they would still be able to meet in their dreams each night.

The following day all the students returned, and Severus knew that Harry was glad to see his friends again though he hadn't yet decided whether to tell them about his holidays or not. In the end he apparently ended up listening to their tales of their Christmas holidays instead, his two friends simply assuming that everything had been as usual at Hogwarts.

It was the morning after that the newspaper brought news that had the entire hall stunned, Severus staring in shock at the front page.

Voldemort was dead.

Apparently interrogating all the captive Death Eaters had resulted in a list of all the places the Dark Lord had ever used as his power base, Narcissa Malfoy knowing particularly many, and the Aurors had checked out each place in turn, eventually looking at Riddle Mansion and finding the corpse of Lord Voldemort, apparently several days dead.

Raising his head, Severus met Harry's stunned gaze: The poisoned dagger had finished off the Dark Lord after all. Severus didn't know how the Dark Lord had failed to counteract the poison, but several reputable forensic wizards and mediwitches had testified that the corpse was indeed that of You-Know-Who, and that he was most definitely dead.

Their gazes still locked, Severus saw something set in Harry's face and the student stood, Severus echoing his movement as they moved to meet halfway down the unusually silent Great Hall. Then Harry stopped before him, looking up into his face with a still expression. Slowly a smile dawned on his face.

"Severus," he said, for the first time calling the Potions Master by his first name in public, and it was perhaps the sweetest thing Severus had ever heard.

"Harry," he smiled back, and then their arms were around each other, propriety be damned, Harry burying his face in Severus's neck and Severus his in Harry's hair and ignoring all the people staring as they held each other tightly. It was over, and they didn't have to keep up the old pretenses anymore.

Unbidden, a memory of a dream where they committed joint suicide rose in Severus's mind, and his arms tightened involuntarily around Harry. Was he going to ask him to join him?

Apparently Harry was thinking along the same lines, because a moment later he asked quietly, "Are you still considering..?"

Severus exhaled. "Only if you are," he answered honestly, and Harry pulled back to look him in the face with an expression soft with relief.

"I'm not," he said, and rose on his toes to press his mouth to Severus's, both of them ignoring the bystanders' reactions as they affirmed that they would both be staying, and staying together. They had a life to live.