AN: Many extra thanks to YenGirl for helping this chapter as much as she did. Without her, some key scenes would be seriously lacking. Also, thanks to Elflina for reminding me that Master Sein needed addressed somehow.
I hope you all enjoyed!
No Turning Back
Harry waited impatiently for Draco to arrive. The rest of the team was here and had given their reports. Fiddling with his teacup, he eyed the bedroom door and forced down the goofy smile that wanted to appear. Last night was just like the night before, except for how they had gone to sleep cuddled up and the morning kiss Severus had insisted on when they woke up, still tangled in the sheets and each other.
Ron caught his eye then and Harry could see the question in his raised eyebrows. A subtle 'Later' signal and he gave a quiet sigh of relief when Draco came through the door. The satisfied look on the blond's face was a good sign.
"Got them," Draco announced.
"Then we have the entire team we wanted." Harry bounced to his feet, setting his teacup on the table.
Draco glanced at the others before smiling. "They all agreed to do it?"
Ron gave a sharp nod. "Everyone and we've pushed the clearance through as well."
"Who and what clearance?" Severus' voice cut through the accomplished, slightly self-satisfied atmosphere.
Harry's eyes snapped back to him immediately, taking in the long hair damp from the shower and the warmth in those black eyes staring at him. His heart skipped a beat, but he just shrugged. There was no need to bring Severus in on this just in case it didn't work.
"We've been very worried about the press and who they'd bring with them. So, we've been working on getting who we want to be their junior pressmen, photographers, and such. As of now, we've several former DA members, a number of former students from all Houses that we know respect you, and Draco just confirmed that he was able to get members of a group he called 'Snape's Snakes'. "
Severus looked like he was doing his best not to look stunned, but Harry could see it and he was sure that Draco and Ron could as well. "They shall be dressed in the team's robe colour, and we have clearance for them to be extended parts of your protection team. As a controversial war hero possibly receiving a coveted award, it seemed to be the prudent thing to do."
The quiet acknowledgement they received was plenty of praise considering who it was from.
The guests of honour were all sitting at the front table, once again facing the clusters of round tables scattered throughout the dining hall. Harry could tell that Severus would have preferred to be in the back corner, in as much of the small section of shadows as he could get. Harry would rather be there as well, but this was his life, to be in the spotlight even when he didn't want to be.
But maybe his life was changing.
He had always thought he would never have a true chance with Severus – he was too young, born too late – but here they were contemplating it. He hugged last night's memory to himself. Maybe he could merge with the shadows as well, though he feared what would actually happen was that Severus might be pulled into the light instead.
Setting aside his musings, Harry focused on the crowd. The normal ones were there – the Potions Masters and their guests. He could see Holland sitting next to Wilcox and was pretty sure their hands were clasped under the table. Harry pushed the wish to touch Severus out of his mind and continued surveying the room. The press was scattered about, but most were clustered along Severus' side of the table. He could see at least fifteen of them in black robes – their colour black. Each face was one he would trust, that he knew Severus would trust. His team now held twenty, and Harry prayed it would be enough. He let his gaze rest long enough on Marcus Flint to cause the former Quidditch captain to look at him. A quick hand movement – one that he knew was used by the Slytherin team – asked Marcus if he and his group were prepared.
The man's eyes narrowed slightly, and then under the guise of adjusting his camera, he checked on the rest of his team. A returned hand signal showed that the man accepted leadership of the press protection group and that they were focused and prepared. Harry acknowledged the response even as Severus' shoulders relaxed.
The Mistress of Ceremonies, an elderly witch with steel grey hair and more wrinkles than Harry had ever seen on anyone, began their meal with a few trivial statements, leaving Harry wishing for a more Dumbledore approach. Most were eating a stir-fry chicken and vegetable dish, but Severus was enjoying Mum Weasley's rump roast, mash, and string beans with a leafy salad that had a vinaigrette dressing clinging to the lettuce. Harry fought back a grin as he noted the openly envious looks directed at Severus' meal.
Eventually, they finished eating and the Mistress of Ceremonies – 'Master Belinda Magistar,' whispered Severus – began again. "Now that we've all eaten one last meal together this year, it's time to recognise the accomplishments made since the last time we gathered at Optumus Pocula."
Harry watched as the plates vanished, drinks taking their place.
"Several of our numbers have created noteworthy improvements to both potions and techniques," she continued, her quavering voice filling the room. "Please, hold your applause until all of their names are called."
With that, she began, the sound of press quills scratching underscoring her voice.
Then Master Magistar began announcing the most influential potions created that year and the speeches started. Each master whom she announced had their moment in the spotlight, and some of them Harry was considering asking Severus of a decent way of making them hush. The Langlock curse was on his tongue multiple times, but he bit it back as he had done for many years.
Finally, Master Magistar took back the podium from Master Biddle who'd been talking for the last thirty minutes. "This year we have a new accomplishment to celebrate. Master Duggle suggested it and the Guild embraced the idea. Here to introduce both the new accomplishment and the one who achieved it is Master Allen Christopher of the Guild Accomplishment Committee."
Master Christopher took her place and glanced over the crowd as Harry signalled Flint to be prepared.
With a swift 'Sonorus', Christopher spoke, "This year, we wish to recognise the most influential Potions Master in the last quarter of a century. The Accomplishment Committee has scoured journals, periodicals, and the guild's records. They also questioned the users of our potions – Healers and Aurors – and then the sellers of potions – the Apothecaries and other quick buy places. While one team was gathering that information, another was looking into invented techniques and how they influenced the creations of potions after they were introduced.
"When we came back together to discuss our findings, we learned that our way of determining who receives recognition at this convention is flawed. There are a number of inventions that go practically unnoticed because of their time of publication. A number of us determined that our recipient of this recognition has been using this flaw for most of his career.
"This Potion Master has created a number of new techniques – most which were not given their due just because the audience they were taught to didn't understand their worth, and most likely thought they were old, tried and true methods, not new and inventive ideas. This master also invented and improved a number of potions, several of which Healers swear by, and Aurors are glad they have access to.
"Apothecaries make his version of several basic healing and cleaning potions as they are typically simple to brew and the instructions are ones they understand – written in a format many of their younger brewers follow out of habit. They're also as effective as their more complicated counterparts."
Harry studiedMaster Duggle and Master Biddle. Biddle was still puffing up which he had started the moment Master Christopher started speaking. Through the speech though, Master Duggle's expression changed from expectation to uncertainty. A glance showed many of the other Potions Masters looking puzzled, and Master Sein starting to frown, her eyes darting from Christopher to Severus to him. 'Wonder if she figured it out?'
Shifting his attention to the room, Harry noted the position of his standard team – they were now strategically placed to see everything that happened – and where the press team was at. Marcus had them placed throughout the crowd, each one obviously paying attention not only to the front table but to the other masters in the room. The hyper-alertness caused some of the younger Potion Masters to become wary and pay more attention to their surroundings. Severus, on the other hand, was completely composed.
Master Christopher stepped slightly to the side of the podium, a wide smile on his face. "Master Severus Snape, I know you've been using the flaw in our system to your advantage, but you'll not be able to do so anymore."
Harry tensed as the other Potion Masters around them gasped and several started to whisper among themselves. Master Sein pressed her lips together before all the tension in her shoulders released and she smiled, shaking her head a bit. Harry watched as she signalled to Songworth and whispered to the man, and wondered what that was about as Songworth stepped back.
As Severus stood up, Harry followed him to the podium, making sure to keep the room in view. Ron joined them by the time they reached Master Christopher.
The elderly Potions Master shook Severus' hand and then stepped back, leaving the spotlight on the younger Potions Master. Harry stood at Severus' right shoulder and Ron was at his left, both of them attempting to make it hard to hit Severus without hitting one of them. Pictures were being taken, not just of Severus, but of the entire crowd. 'Good, then we'll know where everyone was, just in case.'
Severus rested his hand on the podium and surveyed the group. All his former students fell silent, becoming attentive as he fell into his Professor persona. As he spoke, his words were clearly carried to every corner of the room without the aid of a spell. "The softly simmering cauldron, the fumes curling up from the glistening surfaces, the smell of fire warmed metal, the ease of a moving knife through an ingredient, the crunch of a mortar and pestle in use … These are but a few of the pleasures of our art."
Dark eyes swept across the room, resting on several known faces. "There are different types of Potions Masters, some enjoy fame, some enjoy seeing their work being used, but all of us use creativity and thought processes to invent and devise. My Master, Edgar Fernsby, stressed thinking, using your mind to help understand. Researching your available materials and if those were not capable of creating what you wished, then those you would have to work to find. He also encouraged trying new things – new techniques.
"Over the years, I have studied how the changes in preparations and brewing – from the way the ingredient is cut to how the angle the stirring rod is held – effects the nuances of what you brew."
Harry shifted slightly as the older local and the foreign Potions Masters muttered. Those who had Severus as a professor knew what he was talking about – at least those who had him for NEWT classes… or had access to his old school books.
"It's because of this study I created many of the new techniques and potions Master Christopher alluded to," Severus' voice took on the quality that any of his former students knew meant the lecture part of the lesson was almost done. "I'm grateful for the recognition of the Guild for my accomplishments, and am pleased that they have learned something from this."
With one more sweeping look, he left the podium. Harry and Ron travelled with him, listening to the scattered applause as they watched the crowds.
Marcus stood between Severus and several of the older Potions Masters who appeared dissatisfied. A few of the DA stood near him, but behind the same Potions Masters. Several others of the Press Team members carefully circulated, their hands near their wands as they observed the grumbling crowds. Harry was surprised to see Master Sein's team doing the same. Songworth signalled to him, letting him know that they would help keep things under control. Shock curled through him, but Harry wasn't going to dismiss the help, especially as he trusted Songworth. They'd worked together for years.
Master Magistar took the podium again. "The Guild is pleased to recognise such a talented young Master. Severus Snape is an example of what can be done, even in the worst circumstances, and should be an inspiration to our aspiring Masters, those just embarking on their career, as well as to those who have been travelling this path for more years than they'd care to admit."
The grumbles quieted, and she continued. "This is officially the end of Optumus Pocula. Those who were recognised, please remain for the press. Anyone else wishing to be interviewed by the press – even if you were not one of the recognised, then stay as well. The Hotel Archaea has given us until teatime, and then we need to be gone."
Severus sat still as the press swarmed the other Potions Masters. Thinking he might have escaped the chaos, he moved from his seat, Harry close to his side while Weasley watched his back. He spotted Merry, Dewey, and Malfoy positioning themselves in the corners, each carefully watching the clusters of reporters and Potions Masters nearest to them.
The moment he stepped onto the front side of the table, several members of the press swooped down on him. Marcus Flint, with his camera clutched tight, took his picture before positioning himself in a manner that blocked some of the more irate reporters behind him. Others dressed in the same black robes, sporting quills and parchment rolls, blocked the others effectively creating a wall between their old professor and the others. Several of the younger potions masters figured out what was happening and joined in. They all understood the way mobs thought.
"Master Snape," called one of the reporters on the outskirts of the protective wall, "were not several of your potions created to help You-Know-Who?"
Many of the international reporters' heads jerked towards the man before focusing on Severus, waiting for his answer.
Severus centred into the calm place inside of his chest that allowed him to walk into danger and not give away an inkling of fear. "I did not create potions to help Voldemort. I brewed what he ordered, and then I created antidotes, cures, and detections for them. All of which made their ways to the parties that could use them."
"Where's your Master? Surely he would wish to see you receive such an astounding recognition."
Another Master answered the question. Severus thought it might be Biddle.
"Because the man's dead. Died not a month after Snape obtained his Mastery. Some say that he was slipping the man potions for months before that."
'Does that rumour have to appear now?'
Jimmy Mercer scoffed loudly, "Really Biddle? You want to bring that up, casting suspicion where it was proven unfounded not a week after it was first proposed?"
"What suspicion? That Snape killed his Master?" The reporter rounded on the tall, lanky master, his quill writing fast.
Mercer rolled his brown eyes. "Yes, that rumour. It was scotched really fast by the Healers at St Mungo's and the friends of Master Fernsby. Snape spent the last several months of his apprenticeship keeping Master Fernsby alive by making the potions that his Healer said he needed. They were insanely difficult to brew, but Master Fernsby and the Healers approved of Snape's."
"Fernsby came out of retirement just to teach Snape – it was major news in the Potions World. Made the Guild sit up and take notice," said Master Christopher. "It would be like Rowena Ravenclaw agreeing to teach one last pupil from her sickroom, almost deathbed." He glared at Biddle before continuing. "Master Fernsby was a premier potions master, former Head of the Potions Guild, there was no way he could be slipped a potion even in his final days. The day before he passed he ran tests on upcoming Potions Masters entry potions.
"When other masters were concerned about taking on a brilliant student – one who could easily outstrip their personal accomplishments, he came out of his medically induced retirement to personally train Master Snape. The Healers at St Mungo's and his personal team of Healers both kept a close watch on his health the entire time Master Snape was his pupil and the weeks afterwards. Master Biddle shouldn't be spreading disproved folderol, especially when it will reflect badly on both himself and his own master," warned Christopher.
Several of the older reporters' eyes widened before turning back to Severus. "You're Master Fernsby's final pupil? The one he said was his finest? Why haven't we heard anything from you before now? What did Master Christopher mean when he said you've been using a flaw in their system?"
The former students clustered around Severus kept shooting him looks filled with awe and surprise. Out of the protective circle, even more were looking amazed. Louisa Sein caught his attention, her red hair standing out in the crowd. Instead of the sneer he expected, she quietly acknowledged him. Returning her slight nod, Severus directed his attention to the questions.
"I didn't want to be in the press – it would make Voldemort suspicious about my level of ability, also it would cast into question my position at the time, so I made sure to publish all my works and achievements during the beginning of the year. That time of the year was cloaked under the fame and extolling of the latest and greatest being celebrated at Optumus Pocula, and anything published would not be noted except by those who truly needed them."
From there the questions turned to the work he'd been doing while Harry and the rest of his team slowly worked him out of the room and to his freedom.
The next morning Severus could almost swear nothing had changed. He was back home and Harry let himself in the back door as usual and started breakfast, also, as usual, a warm smile flashed his way while the bacon fried, as usual. This usual was all well and good, but needed a few embellishments: a kiss here and there, a brush of fingertips, the press of bodies as they passed each other.
"The Potion Journals are awash with the news," Harry said as he turned back to the bacon. "The interviews they had with you are their top stories." Harry slid the bacon out of the pan and cracked two eggs into it. "A couple of them have commentary from the other Potion Masters. I'm glad we were able to have a number of the junior press members on our team."
Severus poured their morning tea and set a cup next to Harry, his fingers brushing the younger man's arm. Green eyes flashed his way as the muscles in Harry's arm tensed. "Why? Besides the obvious."
"Just the obvious," grinned Harry. "It made getting you out of that room that much easier. The press thought that you were still being hounded and we were able to get away. I sent Flint and his team a thank you. Oh, and Master Sein's team helped as well. She's not normally such a demanding person, she just doesn't like her plans upset. She sent a request to me, asking me if I could see if you would be kind enough to meet her."
"Why should I? She had plenty of time to talk to me at the Optumus."
"Yes, she did, but she was too busy being upset that I was guarding you this year, not her. I'd think a meeting after the beginning of the year or something like that - a quick one, here at the shop or in Diagon if you want to."
"I'll think about it," Severus groused.
Plating the food, Harry carried it to the table. "Our next worry will be the general papers, and that is why my team is assigned to protect you until that fallout happens."
Severus set their tea on the table and decided that was enough shop talk. He cupped Harry's face with hands warmed from the hot mugs. "Good, you can spend the night here then."
His lips pressed against the parted pink ones, and then he deepened the kiss as Harry leaned into it. The chair and the edge of the table between them irritated Severus, but he didn't move – they were going slowly. Two out of three embellishments were good enough progress for this morning. He would go for all three tomorrow, and maybe even more the day after. When the need to breathe grew too much, they ended the kiss.
"Slowly – hand holding, visiting," Harry panted, resting his forehead against Severus', "and not while I am working."
"We've been going slowly for a very long time, Harry," Severus said as patiently as he could. Harry's version of slowly was worse than the pace of a dead flobberworm, he needed to do something to pick it up. "I think kissing is fine. We know each other quite well by now. We don't need the dating time to learn about the other."
"But while working?" Harry queried, his tone sounding as if he was trying to convince himself it was a valid reason as well.
Severus narrowed his eyes. True, he gave into the working excuse before, but not this time. He'd tasted Harry, felt him, watched him sleep. He wasn't willing to go backwards. "Not an excuse, and this is before hours."
Harry narrowed his eyes before re-angling his head and returned Severus' kiss. The tea was lukewarm by the time they started on their breakfast.
Ron leant against the alley wall, his senses taking in their surroundings.
"Somehow we've honestly become a couple," Harry said, his eyes glowing with happiness. "After Wilcox and Holland confronted Severus about relationships and such – that evening, after dinner, we talked."
"You talked?" Ron shifted slightly, one eye still on Harry, but the other watching the traffic near the Phoenix Apothecary. "Just talked?"
"Yeah," Harry moved so he could see Severus' shop better. "Well, talked, kissed, held hands, hugged. Not all in that order, but yeah. We decided to give this a shot, but I want us to take our time. Not jump into this. I mean, I've been going slow this entire time. Working up to talking to him at the Portsmouth Convention, seeing him in his shop, taking meals with him. Baby steps, carefully planned out steps. Ones designed to fit into his life without scaring him off."
Ron shot him a disbelieving look. "You think you could do that, mate? Scare him off? Once that man's made up his mind, he won't be scared off. I mean, look at his history. He decided to be a Death Eater – the initiation for that had to be scary. Then he went to Dumbledore – talk about scary. I've seen Dumbledore mad once at something Sirius did, not something I would want to willingly face, but Snape did. Then he became a double spy. That had to be the scariest thing of all."
"So, no, I don't think you can scare him off once he's made up his mind." Ron continued, his attention grabbed by a disreputable looking man peering into the shop's windows. When the man left, he looked back at Harry. "What's Snape opinion about going slow?"
Harry sighed, "He seems willing to do so for me, but obviously doesn't want to. He keeps pushing to go forward, and definitely is against going backwards."
Ron rolled his eyes before flashing him a grin. "Then take your cue from him. Maybe you've gotten through the trudging work time and now it's time to reap the benefits. Hermione always says there are benefits. Besides, isn't Snape already in his early forties? Honestly, how more do you want him to wait?"
Harry gave a sheepish laugh even as a considering look crossed his face. "He wants me to move in. Since we spent the nights together at the convention, he sees me staying in my own flat as going backwards."
Ron's full attention focused on Harry. "He's asking you to move in?"
Harry nodded slowly, uncertainty laced with hope-filled his face. "I don't know if I should. He's the one we are supposed to be guarding – wouldn't it be a conflict of interest?"
Ron snorted lightly and shook his head. "Take him up on it. That'll clear the rest of us from night duty again, and you both will be happier. I just don't know what you're going to do with your flat."
Harry stared at the shop. "I'll have to pack it up, clean it, and maybe I'll lease it. I might like being a landlord – and if not, I can sell it."
"Lease it furnished – you'll get more for it and it'd be less to pack," Ron said, "Hermione and I will help after Christmas. You coming over, or are you going to be here? If you're not coming – you tell Mum."
Harry shuddered at that. "I'll be there. Severus will understand."
The second morning after the convention, breakfast (porridge and fruit) was already on the table when Harry arrived. Severus fought the scowl off his face as Harry hung up his heavy robes. It shouldn't have been necessary – Harry should have been tucked up in his bed, spooned against him, keeping him there when he woke up too early that morning and unable to go back to sleep. Once their morning passion was spent, he would've come downstairs to make breakfast, letting Harry choose if he wanted to come down yet or laze a bit longer between the warm covers.
Harry smiled when he spotted the table. "I'll make the tea."
The knowledge that Severus had been up earlier than normal was in Harry's eyes along with his suspicions that it wasn't for a good reason, but he didn't voice it just like every other time it happened. Moving quickly, Severus reached the younger man as Harry finished turning the hob on. Turning him around, Severus pressed a kiss, a quick soft kiss, on the pink lips. Harry kissed him back, pressing into Severus' chest, his hand sliding around him, leaving small trails of fire under Severus' skin. Not bothering to mask the groan deep in his chest, Severus pulled Harry closer, his hands sliding over the back of Harry's shirt that hinted at the warmth of skin under it. The kiss ended as a moan pushed its way through Harry's lips.
Smouldering black eyes met burning green ones, both ignoring the kettle starting to steam, but neither could ignore the owl pecking at the window.
Harry gently disentangled himself from Severus' arms, regret plain to see in his every move, and let the owl in. Holding back a sigh, Severus paid the owl for the paper, and Harry turned to warm the teapot.
Severus stared at the Daily Prophet, sitting down absently while Harry finished making the tea. Blinking, he reread the headlines. Former Headmaster Severus Snape named the Most Influential Potions Master in the last Quarter Century.
The picture under it was one someone had snapped during the convention, but not at the press meeting. It was one from his panel – him leaning over a cauldron explaining about how to prepare an ingredient – boomslang by the looks of it. Wondering who snapped the pic, he continued reading.
During this year's Optumus Pocula, the largest annual Potions Convention that was held this year in London, Severus Snape, former Potions Professor and Headmaster of Hogwarts, was recognised for his contributions to the Potions World.
Master Allen Christopher, chairman of the Achievement Committee, explained that Master Snape created many new potions, adapted plenty others, along with discovering new techniques during his tenure at Hogwarts. Our children have been exposed to, and taught by, the top Potions Master of this past quarter of a century.
During the interviews afterwards, it came to light that Master Snape worked to keep his achievements from being noticed, and that while he was spying on You-Know-Who, he made sure to create and publish the potions that both the Aurors and Healers needed to help all they could.
He frowned slightly before scanning the rest of the article in search of all the negative commentary about his previous connections that past articles on him always had.
There were none.
Lowering the paper, he stared at the wall, his mind reeling. The article mentioned Harry and Ron by his side, it brought up the number of his students that had become Potions Master, and it quoted several Potions Masters saying that they accepted apprentices who made an 'E' on their OWLs as long as they were Severus' former students because they truly knew the material and were good.
Harry set down their normal cups and nudged the tea closer to Severus. "Anything interesting in the Prophet?"
Instead of answering, Severus just handed the paper over.
Harry set it aside after scanning the article. "I've permission to take the night watch again. The team all gave up claims for it and Brathwaite said it would be best if someone was here just in case there was a night attack." He tapped the paper. "This will be the first of many articles, I'm sure. Brathwaite assigned me here until Christmas at least."
"At least? Tomorrow's Christmas Eve." Severus leaned forward, rest his hand over Harry's. "How about permanently?"
When uncertainty filled the bright green eyes, Severus worried he'd pushed too hard. He felt Harry's hand turn under his and just when he was sure it would pull away along with its owner, he felt fingers clasp around his hand. Resolve and tempered happiness filled Harry's face, but only happiness was in his voice as he answered, "I'd like permanently. When should I move in?"
Severus exhaled in relief.
"We'll get your things right after breakfast." He tipped his head slightly, "How slowly are we moving still?"
"I'm still working – back to the level we were at while at the convention."
Severus shook his head. "Adding that level to where we are now." He refused to give up morning kisses in the kitchen.
Ron leant against the wall, a smile curling his lip. "Brathwaite thinks this will all blow over after the New Year. That'll give everyone a chance to get their holiday attacks out of the way."
Harry narrowed his eyes slightly. "After the attempted arson yesterday and that stranger who came in, fling spells around the shop area, I can't blame him. Both of them were visiting on holiday."
Ron shuddered. "Glad Snape keeps damping spells in the shop area to help prevent accidents. That could have gotten ugly fast."
"Yeah – it could have. I'm glad Angel and Merilin were on duty – they caught that arson while we were able to handle the caster," Harry said.
"Changing topics – did you talk to Snape about Christmas?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, he said that Mum Weasley already invited him to dinner the day he went over to plan the convention's menu, so you'll be seeing both of us."
"Just like the couple you are." Ron smiled. "Can I tell Hermione now that it's official? That you're moving in?"
"I'm moved in already – Severus and I did it after breakfast this morning before the shop opened." Harry laughed at Ron's disappointed expression. "Not everything, there are some loose ends to clean up. You can let Hermione know and ask her how to go about getting leasers."
"Will do, mate."
Harry and Severus stepped out of the Burrow's floo only to be greeted by a grinning Ron.
"Mum insists that you two are in a relationship," Ron darted a fast look over both of them. "I didn't say anything, figured you'd want to break it to her yourselves. I don't know how she figured it out. "
Severus smirked. "She's suspected something for a while. After raising you and your siblings, I don't doubt her ability to deduce things."
Harry nudged Ron towards the kitchen. "Besides, she's been telling me for the last several years that Severus and I had some type of relationship. I don't know what the rest of the family's going to think about us, though."
Ron slung an arm over Harry's shoulder. "Don't worry about them, they've been listening to you for years, they know something's there."
"What have you been telling the Weasleys, Harry?" Severus stepped around them, preventing them from walking into the kitchen.
Harry shrugged, "That we're friends that eat breakfast and dinner together."
Nodding once, Severus took Harry's hand in his and nudged Weasley's arm off. "Lead the way, Ronald."
Blue eyes widened and then darted between Harry and Severus.
"Yes, I used your given name," Severus scoffed, "there are too many Weasleys here for me not to, so get used to it."
A foolish grin filled Ron's face as he walked through the doorway.
"They finally made it?" Molly asked, her head tilting to see around her son.
"Yes, Mum, they're here." Ron darted to his seat next to Hermione, making sure to get there in time to watch everyone's faces when Harry and Severus - 'He can call me Ron, I can call him Severus.' - entered. Hermione must have read something in his actions because she turned to the doorway too.
Harry and Severus waited half a breath before they walked in, hands clasped between them.
Ron caught the stunned looks on almost everyone's faces. All the family was there and the amount they were shocked depended on how often they were home. George and Angelina mildly, Ginny a bit more – she'd been travelling with the Holy Head Harpies a lot recently, Bill and Fleur were slightly more than George but less than Ginny. Charlie looked downright floored and so did Percy – the Ministry had him travelling away from home more than not since the war ended.
It was Mum's and Dad's reaction that stunned him, or rather their lack of reaction. They were completely blasé about it.
"Glad you could make it, Severus. Molly saved you a seat next to Harry's normal one." Arthur gestured towards the two empty chairs.
"That's who the chair's for!" Charlie exclaimed, freeing the rest from their frozen states.
Severus and Harry sat down as the questions flooded in. Ron grinned as Severus let Harry answer most of them.
After dinner and the younger generation went out to play Quidditch including Harry, Severus waited for Molly and Arthur to start. He truly expected to be grilled, raked over the coals, and warned about hurting Harry. Not that he ever would, but they couldn't know that.
Molly set the dishes to washing before sitting down across the table from him. Severus expected Arthur to sit next to her – a united front – but instead he leaned against the wall, looking out over the garden. Both still looked completely relaxed.
"So, no more crumbs?" Molly asked, pushing a plate of sugar biscuits towards him.
Severus raised an eyebrow at the plate, wondering who could eat anything more after the meal they'd just finished. "Larger crumbs with the promise of the entire meal later."
"Sounds about right," Arthur said, not turning to face the room. "You've just accepted that there could be more than crumbs. It's best not to gorge yourselves right away. Work your way into it – it'll have a better chance of lasting longer that way. You get to learn what is … better tasting, more enjoyable … than if you rush in. Less chance of overeating on something you dislike, so you'll stay longer."
All the food references were starting to hurt Severus' head, but he understood what they were saying. After interpreting Albus, this was a breeze, and he'd already played along. "I think we're ready to move onto a slightly larger meal – not a feast like the delicious one we just enjoyed – but more than what we've had so far."
Molly smiled, happiness shining in her eyes. A hand settled on her shoulder, and Severus looked up into contented blue eyes. Molly drew a breath, bringing his attention back to her.
"A feast is possible though?"
Severus looked out the window as he thought. "It is."
Severus watched Harry as he gathered his night things. The talk with Arthur and Molly had been playing through his mind since they returned home and put the leftovers in the fridge.
"Do you want to move forward?" he asked, the words spilling past his lips before he could pull them back.
Harry stopped, his night clothes clutched to his chest. "How far?"
Severus crossed the room only to stop a foot or two before the other man. "How far do you want this to go? What is the end you dream of?"
Harry sank to the edge of the bed, his clothes dropping into his lap as his eyes dropped to the floor. "I don't want to scare you off."
"Not happening," Severus said firmly.
Harry's throat moved as he swallowed. "Then the end … is us together and not ever parting. Married, bonded, or just living together – whatever the law allows. As long as you and I … as long as we are together."
Severus crouched down to Harry's level, reaching out and lifting his chin until their eyes met. "Always sounds like the perfect end to me as well. We'll have to research into what the law will allow – Muggle law will be ignored – and then we will go as far as they'll allow, and farther if need be."
Harry stared at him, not speaking, not breathing. Severus took a deep breath and decided there was no point in holding back anymore.
"I love you, Harry, and am willing to spend the rest of my life making sure you survive to the appropriate end of yours."
Harry smiled in relief, his eyes glowing.
"I … I love you too, Severus. I don't think you need to worry about my survival though."
Severus' heart skipped a beat, the corners of his lips curling up. "Then your happiness, though I guarantee we both will not always be happy."
Laughing, Harry nodded. "No, we won't, but a proportionally high amount would be great."
Severus stood up, pulling Harry with him, letting the clothes fall to the floor.
"And what would make you happy right now, Harry?" Severus leaned closed, his fingers sliding into the thick unruly black hair.
Harry searched his face, spending an inordinate amount of time staring into his eyes, before he answered in a rush, cheeks reddening as he spoke, "Being with you, seeing you without your robes, feeling you against me and only you, not worrying about stopping whatever may come."
"Sounds good." Severus brushed his lips across Harry's, enjoying their texture – the softness along with the slight chapping from the cold, before taking a step back. He started to undress before Harry could change his mind despite his own worry about how Harry might view his naked body. It didn't help that the room hadn't warmed up yet, the cool air making goose bumps dance across his skin.
Shedding his shirt and trousers, Severus draped them over a nearby chair, seeing those green eyes widen at the growing expanse of pale skin and a far too skinny frame. He paused for a heartbeat before stepping out of his underwear, half expecting derision to fill Harry's face, but it never did. Then he turned around so Harry could see the rest of him while he took a moment to hide his trepidation. He hated being put on display.
A hand ran down his back, over scars he had forgotten about long ago – they were less damaging than the invisible ones later scored on his heart and soul.
"Thank you. Your turn to sit and watch," Harry whispered into his ear. The press of a cloth covered erection against his backside fuelled Severus' desire and lessened his embarrassment. Leaning back against Harry for a brief second, Severus went to settle on the edge of the bed – sitting in the same spot Harry had just risen from.
He could tell Harry was also nervous as he undressed just as carefully. Severus let his eyes feast on the exposed skin, waiting to touch it. The too skinny boy had fleshed out nicely, unlike Severus.
Once the last of the clothes were gone, Harry stepped towards him, his body signalling his interest, but his shoulders slightly stiff, and his face red.
'We're both embarrassed and uncomfortable at being seen without our barriers.' Severus realised. He didn't know why Harry would feel self-conscious though, he looked good. Making a quick decision, he flipped back the covers and pulled Harry onto the bed. One more quick motion had them tucked under. He wanted to stare at Harry some more, but not at the expense of his comfort. Arthur's words were still in his head. Don't rush – test the food, and don't keep going on with something you don't like. They had plenty of time to learn to be comfortable naked around each other, and if they never did – that was fine too.
"Shh," Severus pulled Harry into a kiss, leaving space between them, starting them off with the crumbs they were used to.
Harry enthusiastically joined him in the kiss, sliding closer until their skin touched. Both of them froze at the jolt of desire that raced through them. Severus cautiously slid a hand down Harry's back, savouring the smooth feel of his skin. It was as warm as his shirt had promised days ago. Harry's breath caught in his throat as Severus' hand settled on the curve of his bottom.
Severus continued their kiss all the while inching them closer and closer together, facing each other, the covers sliding down their bodies settling around their waists unnoticed. His efforts stopped, his heart stuttering in his chest when Harry's hands brushed over his ribs, his fingertips finding and tracing the scars on his back before they boldly slid down and cup his buttocks in turn.
Their lips separated as they both gasped. The last bit of space between them was gone – they were pressed chest to chest, hip to hip, leg to leg, and erection to erection.
Moving almost tentatively, Severus stroked his erection against Harry's as he trailed his lips over the man's jaw to his ear. Harry moved with him, hips thrusting against his.
A groan left Severus' throat the moment Harry nibbled gently on it.
Hands began to stroke and caress with more confidence, travelling overheated skin. Severus' hand slipped between them and encircled both of their cocks. Harry's joined him a moment later, fingers interlacing around his and squeezing tight. Without any need for words, they started stroking themselves, Harry's head still tucked under Severus' chin. Their harsh breathing and grunts were the only sounds in the room, finally synchronizing just before they peaked at the same time.
Collapsing onto each other, their panting breaths warm on hot skin, they savoured the feeling of rightness, of finally being whole.
A few seconds or minutes later – Severus wasn't sure which – Harry stirred, mumbling something about getting a flannel to clean up. Severus chuckled at that, reaching behind him for the wand he had left on the nightstand.
"You're not going anywhere, Harry." He spelled both of them clean and then pulled Harry closer.
"Not even to get dressed?" Happy green eyes twinkled at him.
"But it's cold."
Severus' answer was to turn Harry around until he was spooning the younger man.
"That should do it," Harry chuckled, turning his head to brush a quick kiss over Severus' lips before snuggling down.
"Good night, Harry." Severus' words ghosted over his cheek. "Nox."
The lights went out, and Harry smiled as his imagination took flight. Light met Shadows, Old accepted Young. Maybe, just maybe, they could be like any other normal couple, but somehow he doubted it.
Whatever happened though, it would be worth it. He'd worked too hard and too long on this for it not to be. Smiling, Harry placed his hand over the thin one curled around his waist, interlacing their fingers together.