Hiding Under the Ninth Earth
Book 02 : A Bit Of All Right
by I Got Tired of Waiting

Part V : Together
Chapter Fifty Six : Epilogue
Chapter One : Hiding Under the Ninth Earth : Reluctant Warriors

"The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success."

11 February 2023

Tensely perched on a wooden stool in front of his private work table, Severus Snape looked up at the clock on the wall to his right, ignoring for the moment that it had only been 30 seconds since the last time he'd checked it. He also tried to ignore the empty, aching pit in his stomach that had started in that time, one that had grown deeper and stronger with each passing glance at the clock. He glared at its innocence, wondering for the umpteenth time if it were truly accurate, as if he hadn't already checked it with a muttered spell as many times against the school's official chronometer every time he'd thought about it, which was just about every time he looked.

He moved his head to stare in front of him through the open, inviting door of his private lab, ears straining for the slightest sounds he might have missed in his concentration on the clock. But as he'd half-expected, all was silent except for the sibilant sound of Saganth slithering behind him, begging, in his hissing snake way, that the rat stay still for just one more second. Severus wanted to scream at him to be quiet, that he needed to hear, but knew that if he did, Saganth would just sneak away and sulk for days, which would upset Sleave, who would in turn upset--the slapping sound of the snake's strike followed a panicked squeak and then there was blissful silence; he knew Saganth would take a while to polish off a rat of any size; he was, after all, not nearly as big as Horatio, his father, although in all fairness, he was still growing.

He next gazed out the window set high in the wall to his left. Squinting his eyes, he tried to see if he could catch a glimpse of something, anything, winging its way to him to tell him he was being ridiculous to watch the clock. But the sky, turning gold and orange with the setting of the sun, was empty. Not even a stray cloud marred its perfection. He spared no thought to its beauty, just watched the ever-darkening colours with an increasing feeling of dread, which perfectly lined the pit in his stomach.

When convinced nothing was coming his way, he leaned forward, peered into his cauldron, and then, seeing nothing amiss, he closed his eyes and once again repeated the charm Albus had given him on his birthday so many years before--"Reperio Aperio, Potter"--and as had happened all this evening, he received in his head a picture of a grey nothingness, which he knew from infrequent experience could either mean Harry was actively healing, or actively fighting, or actively travelling, or dea--no, it did not bear thought yet. Only one of those options pleased him and since Harry had not yet made an appearance--

Inevitably his head swiveled again to look at the clock. And so it continued.

Such was his concentration on his fruitless endeavor, he violently started when the wards chimed someone's approach to their apartment. When the front door opened and shut quietly, the tension drained from his neck and shoulders, leaving him limp with relief and a little nauseous as the pit closed around its sour burden before disappearing. He opened the bond to his mate, but either Harry was preoccupied and didn't notice or he was purposely ignoring him. Given that Harry, for the first time in nearly five years, had sent no owl to notify him of his tardiness, Severus suspected the latter; however, he also sensed Harry was well and the last bit of tension in his back disappeared.

All this happened in a blink of an eye as Severus prepared himself to play 'the game' and murmured to himself as he stared again at the clock, "Not too bad. Just little bit past half past--he's only thirty three minutes and--11 seconds late. He'll be hanging his winter cloak and scarf," Severus waited a beat then continued, "then he'll toss his boots." A loud clattering thud could be heard as Harry's footwear hit the wooden shoe tray by the door.

With an evil smile, he whispered, "Then, he'll trip over the damn cat--"

"Mribeth!" he heard Harry yell accompanied by the frantic sound of someone's feet pounding the floor trying to regain their balance. Severus shook his head--Mribeth always came to greet Harry, trying to wind in and around his ankles, and Harry always tripped over her. He now watched his potion as well as the clock, which was now a friend instead of the enemy.

This little 'game' had been amusing him for the past ten years ever since Harry had set up offices in London. It had originally started early on in their marriage as an informal ritual to help him cope, to make himself believe that Harry coming home to him each night was an ordinary thing and not the miracle it usually was. As their mutual abilities and reputations had grown, so had the necessity of normalcy.

He nonchalantly turned his apparent attention back to his potion and, not looking at the door, muttered, "He should be coming through the door about--right--"

"Hullo, Sev," Harry said. Severus raised his head to calmly, openly look at him and the tired lines on his face as he walked over to the worn worktable and looked cautiously into the cauldron.

Not fooled for an instant by his apparent inattention, Harry eyed Severus hungrily and moved around the table to stand by his side. Like magic, Severus lifted his face to him, his throat lovely in its exposed vulnerability; Harry leaned in for a long, slow kiss, his fingers lightly tracing the strong cords of his neck, the contact of Severus' hands and lips erasing the harrowing day.

Severus kissed him back, fervent, one hand threaded through the snow-damp hair at his neck, the other cupping Harry's still cold face as if it were the most precious thing to him on earth. And it probably was. He broke it off, eyes scanning his husband's face as they always did, seeing the isolated silver strands stark in the darker hair of his temples, the fine lines around the eyes and nose, the eyes haunted by something new.

Harry breathed out, "Ahh, Severus, you always taste so fine of fresh air and warm spice. Just what this tired old sod needs after an impossible day with the London masses." He sighed happily as Severus settled him snugly into his side, his arm around him under his outer robes as he waited for the potion.

"Still at it?" Harry asked as he always did, curious, stealing an arm around Severus' shoulders, savouring his husband and anchor in his uncertain world.

"Always. Bartie's or Matt's today?" Severus leaned his head into Harry's side, savouring yet another safe homecoming. His hand, firm against his waist, was possessive.

"Both, actually, and I saw several patients at the clinic as well, one of them a new referral. It's getting almost too busy; it would be so nice to take a break every now and again."

"I admit, some time together, alone, would be as pleasant as it would be unusual. We could take that trip to Asia we always talk about but never seem to make." He chuckled. "As much my fault as yours, that. We are still going to Hana next month, right?"

"Oh, yes. I've already notified Ben and Kalani we'll be there for the christening." He sighed. "Three more weeks, I can't wait!"

"Neither can I. I can already feel the sun warming our tired old bones, not to mention--" He leered up at Harry, who laughed and bent down to steal another kiss.

Straightening, Harry hesitated and debated on how much to tell Severus right now when his upset was still so fresh. Severus may not have said a word to him about it, but he knew he'd probably started watching the clock after he was a few minutes late. If not before. So he settled on an abbreviated version, deciding to tell Severus the rest after dinner. "Had a bit of a fuss in the underground coming home. Finally got so tired of it I went to the loo and Apparated out to Hogsmeade. Didn't much care if anyone saw me, either. I just wanted to get home. Sorry I'm late; a bit hard to find owls in Charing Cross and, despite her many talents, Sleave has yet to learn how to Apparate."

As if called by her name, a tiny snake the colour of burnished gold unraveled from around Harry's wrist, where she'd been coiled like a fine bracelet, and whispered out of Harry's robes to settle on his hand right by Severus' ear. Severus turned his head to regard Horatio's strange little daughter and was rewarded by her long black tongue with a tiny fork at the end hitting his nose, just like her father's always had. Very softly he breathed, "There's a warm snack on the table for you, little one."

She hissed happily as she made her way down his shoulder and arm to the work table, where off on the far corner was a small bowl of cream kept fresh and warm by a spell. She dipped her snout in and drank deeply only to raise it and hiss her thanks, her muzzle coated in frothy white. They both chuckled indulgently; Sleave might be small, but her poison was potent and Severus was grateful she travelled with Harry everywhere he went as protection as she was far more effective than any bulky bodyguard. Most people, if they even noticed her, just thought Harry had a rather extravagant gold cuff; Sleave was such a calm snake.

Harry's hand idly stroked Severus' silky hair, still worn fairly long. The silver wings at the temples imparted a distinguished look to his lean elegance, the deeper lines in his face added more character. He surreptitiously looked down at him and thought him handsome with a fierce rush of possessiveness.

He knew Severus still worried about him when he was late by any appreciable time and suspected from the fine lines remaining around his husband's mouth that he'd cut it too close this evening. And for once, Severus' concerns were justified; the altercation at the station this evening was just another symptom of a world slowly going mad. And he wasn't sure who was the most insane--the Dark Wizards against whom he'd fought or the Muggles who still refused to believe in them.

He felt Severus straighten and was glad he did not pay much attention to his bit about coming home. With the completion of the potion, Harry could only hope it distracted Severus enough that he would not pursue it until later; like he had many times in the past, he irritably thought that this 'honesty in all things' business was a bloody nuisance at times.

Harry released him and stood aside to let him get on with it. He quieted at the intense look of concentration on Severus' face. Harry didn't know where Severus got the patience. He'd been niggling this particular potion along now for well over a year, seemingly grain by grain, and it still wasn't quite right. Each batch took five days to complete, so Harry reckoned Severus had at least fifty failed trials under his belt. And it didn't bother him, didn't frustrate him, didn't make him angry. He would just shake his head, analyze the results, mark it down in his notebook, and clean-up. And in a few days time, do it all over again. If he hadn't seen him do it so many times, he never would have believed it.

He could see by the look on his face, it had failed again. "Which batch was this one?" he asked, curious. Harry knew the several potions Severus experimented with were all related to the first conversation they'd had almost twenty years before (and of many subsequent discussions since) about trying to merge new Sanos connections via a potion. They'd never succeeded to date, but several of the brews had yielded unexpected results and had proven useful in other areas, so it had never been a wasted effort.

"Oh, the usual. I was trying to see if adjusting the iron content would make a difference. It did, but not the way I'd expected. There's a synergistic relationship in it somewhere I'm just missing somehow; the Schema is all wrong and the notes from the original potioner are next to useless. It's a bloody miracle his original potion worked in the first place--a prime example of luck over intelligence."

Severus' voice was nonchalant, but Harry wasn't fooled--the failure bothered him. He'd given up long ago any sympathy he thought Severus might need; he really didn't seem to want any. "I don't know how you do it. How do you keep from going crazy?"

Severus turned and smiled at him. "I use The Book."

"What does The Book have to do with your potions?" Harry asked, obviously missing the point.

Pulling his head back and raising his brows, Severus asked, "After all these years and you haven't noticed?"

"Noticed what?" Harry was truly mystified.

Severus had to laugh. "Every time I have a major set-back, you get head."

"Really?" Harry grinned and shook his head. "Lucky me. And this relaxes you?"

Severus nodded, moving a large mouthed bottle close to the cauldron, saying, "And it helps me focus on success."

"Success?" Harry handed him a small ladle. He put a funnel in the first bottle. "How so?"

"Have you ever turned me down?" He stood with the ladle in hand, ready to bottle the potion for analysis. The mischief was ready to explode out of his austere face.

Harry thought about it and then chuckled, "Not once," he finally said, shaking his head. He couldn't resist, "So, did you have a 'major' set-back today?"

Severus chuckled. "Made you ask." He smiled hugely to himself. "Not particularly. I expected it to fail; actually, with the new ingredients I added this morning, I needed to know how it would fail. There's a rhythm to potions, a sense of balance that is eluding me right now over this one. I'm quite sure I'll get it someday. Merlin knows, we have time."

Harry looked disappointed when he remarked, "Oh." He suddenly brightened, and asked, "Care for some dessert, then, after dinner?"

Severus laughed outright, putting his hand on Harry's cheek and bringing his face close. "I wouldn't mind some before dinner, but only if you've learned not to talk with your mouth full."

Dinner that night was taken in the Great Hall; the days when Severus could sneak away on occasion and not put in a regular appearance were long gone. Given his position, he rarely had the opportunity to be private anymore during his many public events, a situation that had strained their relationship at first until both had adjusted; it just made their private life that much more intense. Harry sat by his side, a normal fixture at the head table, as welcome as any professor even though he didn't teach.

While he really disliked feeling as if he was up on display, Harry regularly came to dinner for three reasons: to take whatever opportunities he had to talk to Severus, to squelch the rumours sure to circulate if he didn't, and, if Severus was engaged in urgent conversation with McGonagall, like he was this evening, or was busy watching over the student's antics, it gave him the chance to talk to Remus, who always sat to his left. Sometimes, with his on-call schedule to handle as well as his regular one, mealtimes were the only times he got to talk to anyone.

Tonight, though, Remus was engaged in animated conversation with Artemis, the school's Medi-Wizard. Artemis now made the Wolfsbane potion for Remus; it was what had sealed their friendship in the first place. When Remus had finally married sixteen years ago, his position as the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor secure, he and his then-young bride had settled down in one of the upper towers, the rooms airy and full of light. Poppy had delivered the first of their brood (now a Fourth Year), Artemis the other six, the most recent being only three months ago. His wife had had some difficulties with the seventh child and only yesterday had travelled back to her mother's to recuperate in the warm sunshine, the chill of the Scottish winter too much for her thinner blood to handle right now. Harry had thought to cheer him up, but it seemed Artemis was doing a fine job of it all ready.

With Severus and Remus engaged, Harry sat in the middle brooding and thinking of the day's events and how he was going to broach the subject with Severus. He'd almost come up with a plan, when his thoughts were interrupted by a low smoky voice tickling his ear. "I've managed to put the old bag off until tomorrow morning. What say you we retire to our quarters--I hear a roaring fire and a warm brandy in front of it are conducive to the simplest of confessions."

With Severus' warm hand settling flat on his thigh, Harry shivered slightly. What Severus could do with those hands! He leaned over, his lips on Severus' ear, hidden from view by the room at large by his face. Harry licked the lobe and felt the hand tighten as he whispered, "And if I have nothing to confess?"

Severus pulled back and raised a brow, saying nothing. Harry smiled sheepishly at him--Severus knew he hadn't told him everything. Harry sighed and murmured, "Only if it's the Remy."

Somehow Severus managed to convey a world of sympathy in a simple stroke up Harry's thigh before he withdrew his hand, grabbing the napkin off of his lap to wipe his mouth and place it concisely on the table. He glanced at McGonagall and they stood together, indicating the meal was over. Following them out of the room Harry was sadly reminded of when Dumbledore was the one to do this, but time stood still for no wizard and it had been years since the old man had graced the table. It was a new time and a new regime at Hogwarts. And everywhere else for that matter.

By the time Harry came out of the loo, Severus had already changed into his dressing gown, the fire in their sitting room was lit, and a new bottle of Remy was opened on a low table placed next to the pile of cushions and floor chairs they used each night before retiring. While the furniture was different here, everything else was much the same. They still occupied their sunny rooms in the dungeons with a few new passages cut here and there to aid Severus, especially, in getting around the castle quickly and efficiently.

An anniversary present from Kalani and Ben a few years back, the floor chairs were quite simple in that their body weight on the seats held the backs in place. They could lounge in front of the fire in blazing comfort or the chairs could be quickly and easily folded and removed for other 'hot' pursuits on the silk rug or other cushions surrounding the area. As Harry settled into one of the comfortably upholstered chairs, Severus handed him a rather full snifter of his favourite cognac, and then settled himself down next to Harry at an angle, slightly facing him but within easy reach. He picked up his own glass off of another table near to him and made himself comfortable, his legs stretched out towards the fire.

And he waited.

Harry swirled the liqueur in the glass and decided to start off with something innocuous. "I heard from Malia today that Kahealani made it back fine and is even now working on her tan. Of course, she and all the Aunties are positively drooling over the grandchildren."

Severus adjusted to this line of thought by remarking with a small smile, "Yes, Remus told me this morning. While he's a bit lonely with her and the younger children gone, he's also grateful she's where she can relax. I gather this one was the hardest of the lot."

Harry hesitated, but knew Severus needed to be aware of the situations both personally and professionally of all the teachers since they were part of his responsibility. "Hard is perhaps too easy a word." He took a sip of the Remy and sighed. "It almost killed her. Artemis and Remus asked me to look at her the other day. She's far too frail and I suggested they send her home so at least she wouldn't have to deal with the cold and the children on top of everything else." He took another sip and stared into the fire.

"She will be all right?" Severus asked with some concern, leaning forward. Kahealani was like a sister to them both.

Harry finally looked at him and put his hand on his knee. "With proper rest--" he took a deep breath "--and no more babies, she should be fine."

Severus leaned back hard in the chair. "How did Remus take that little piece of news?"

Harry cleared his throat. "Fairly well, all things considered. I told him that while she's relatively young, I mean she's only 38, the multiple pregnancies have taken their toll. Remus was--well, horrified seems a little strong, but he was certainly thoughtful after our conversation."

"As he should be. I was beginning to wonder if he was trying to repopulate Hogwarts all by himself." He took a sip of his drink and set it aside. "Ah, one more potion to add to the list. No matter."

"Severus!" Harry exclaimed with some asperity. "When are you going to let either Artemis or Douglas handle the potions? With all your school duties and the experiments we work on and now this. It's too much--you're going to wear yourself out."

Rather than get angry, Severus started chuckling. "You, my love, are a fine one to take me to task about too much work with your clinic and private practice and hospice visits, not to mention the charity work you do among the Muggles. I merely amuse myself with a few select potions I want to make absolutely sure are the purest and the best they can be. Artemis, ironically, is the better potioner of the two of them and is positively brilliant with the Wolfsbane, hence I surrendered its making to him gladly." He picked up his glass and contemplated its amber glow in the fire. His voice and his face softening, he finished, "And I will trust no one else with your restorative."

Harry leaned over and kissed him gently. "For which I am eternally grateful," he whispered.

Severus nibbled on his lip and murmured, "You're redirecting. I wonder from whom you learned that? Hmmm?"

Harry smiled smugly and sat back in the chair, drinking deeply from his glass. "Well, I wouldn't know." He chuckled shaking his head--some things just never changed. Looking back at the fire he casually remarked, "Actually, I'm thinking of taking on an apprentice or two--at least to help with triaging the patients and taking down the clinical notes, although not the research notes. Found a couple promising young Healers at St. Matthews, both trained by Quiesta--I think they might have the wherewithal to learn the Sanos I practice."

Severus remained where he was with an obvious effort. "I see. What brought this on?"

"I'm tired, Severus. Bone tired and frankly, I want to start spending less time in London and more here on the research where I can be more useful."

"This wouldn't have anything to do, would it, with why you were late this evening?"

"Not now, Severus. I'll get to it, I promise."

A log falling in the fire, crackling and sending up a shower of sparks, almost covered the grunt of frustration Severus let out, but there was no helping it. He couldn't force the issue.

While Severus magicked the log back into place, Harry continued. "I finally asked Perrin to join me."

Severus stared at him. "I thought Perrin was helping Quiesta teach and had no interest in your work." He took a long drink of the cognac and sighed.

Harry blinked. Perrin was supposed to have told Severus so it wouldn't come as a shock. He was definitely going to have to talk to the boy about this. However, there was no way now to unsay it. "True--was with Quiesta--until he started showing an unusual affinity for detecting the Schema of people about a year ago. Quiesta made him come talk to me a few months back; I've been training him off and on since then and he's moved to Bartie's now. I'm taking him on, first to be my assistant and manage the apprentices, maybe later as a partner, assuming he can be taught how to create the Schema."

Severus looked hurt. "Why didn't he say anything to me about it? I mean I know it's not your place to do so, but I just had lunch with him last week and he said only that he was thinking of changing jobs, but was unclear as to what it entailed."

Harry moved over and sat next to Severus on one of the cushions, facing him. Draping his arm over his legs, he replied gently, "He's afraid of your disapproval and you know how important that is to him. I'm sorry, Severus, I thought he'd already spoken to you about it--I set it as a stipulation of our agreement."

"Why would he think I would disapprove of such a thing?" Harry just stared at him. Severus threw up his hands and smiled ruefully. "All right, I concede. I might have been a little vocally censorious about the dangers inherent in your work in the past." He ran his hand over Harry's arm in his lap. "But that's different than if he were to do it."

Harry chuckled. "I know that and you know that, but the, ah, disagreements we've had over it in his presence in the past affected him more than we ever thought. I admit, I was a bit shocked when he almost turned me down because of it."

Severus was thoughtful. "Hmmm. It seems I will have to discuss this with him. I would not want him to make his career choices based on whether I approve or not." He put his glass down and leaned back full into the chair. "Well, at least this should make Helena happy."

Harry made a sour face. "As if Helena could ever be happy about anything," he muttered.

Throwing him a sharp glance, Severus replied, shrugging, "She's your offspring. Certainly there's something positive in there, somewhere. Perrin obviously thinks so or he would not have married her."

"She's half her mother's as well and Perrin is a sucker for lost causes." He really didn't want to talk of this now--he had other things on his mind. He looked away, saying, "Severus, can we please just let this part of the conversation drop?"

Severus carded his hand through Harry's hair as if brushing it; they both knew how uncomfortable the subject was. "If that is what you want. I have no particular need to speak of her at this time, but in passing, I will say you are going to have to come to grips with this or it will continue to eat you from the inside out." His hand stilled and he sniffed. "But I suspect you don't need me to tell you that."

No, Harry didn't, but as quickly as he could, he dropped the matter from his mind. Thoughts of Helena made his head ache and always had. He stared into the fire, sipping his brandy, aware of Severus patiently waiting for him to gather himself.

"Have you brooded long enough about why you were late or do you intend to hold me in suspense the rest of the night?" Severus asked drolly while he swirled the brandy in his glass. With a wrong move of his wrist, he hissed softly.

Startled, Harry turned to look at him and his hands. With determination, he set his own drink aside on Severus' table. Muttering a spell, a blue jar sailed through the air into his outstretched hand from the shelves of medicines in his study. Severus sucked in a breath when Harry opened the jar and set it next to his glass. He took the snifter out of Severus' as well and, pulling the hand, holding it into his lap, he scooped out a dollop of the cream in the jar. Rubbing the healing lotion between his two hands, he picked up Severus' and began to massage the ointment into the appendage, paying particular attention to the joints, which were a bit swollen and obviously tender.

Harry was upset with himself that he hadn't noticed it sooner.

Well past the time he needed to stop, his hands continued to caress Severus'. He got some more cream and started working on the other one. Severus laid his head back on the chair, his eyes slitted in contentment, the occasional groan escaping his lips every now and again as Harry made love to his hands. After a long while Harry stopped and, scooting forward, he put his head on Severus' chest, his arms wiggling behind him to wrap around his waist.

"They attacked the Muggles in Charing Cross this afternoon. There weren't any Aurors there to protect them, so I got drawn into the fray." Severus sighed and folded him in his arms, his head on top of Harry's. "There were minimal casualties, mostly Muggle; I don't think their purpose was to harm but to alarm."

"Well, that explains why I couldn't see you with the charm," Severus remarked dryly. "Did you recognize anyone?"

Harry sighed and moved closer. "I don't remember much, Severus. Twenty bloody minutes of flying hexes and I can remember very little of it." He shuddered and whispered, "Draco was there, though. Him, I remember."

Severus was quiet for a while, lost in his thoughts, his arms tightening every now and then. Harry didn't want to move, but knew they were not done discussing it.

Harry pulled back so he could see Severus' face. "I'm treating more Muggles now than Wizarding folk, Severus. That's the main reason I want to move on, why others are more than qualified to take over. When I first started my practice, it was to help Wizards. Almost any healer can treat the Muggles; what I do is different and while I won't say my efforts are wasted--"

"They're not being used to their fullest potential either," Severus finished. "Quite a dilemma for you."

"Not only wasted, but--" he hesitated and then went on in a rush, "Severus, I can't help but feel that soon, very soon, things are going to get much worse and we are going to need more people who are trained to do what I do. And there are so few who can. Quiesta has been scanning all applicants not only where she's at, but other universities as well; they're just not there. Perrin is the closest we've found and I am not sure we can train him to where he needs to be."

He put his head back down and said, his voice muffled in Severus' dressing gown, "You know how when you haven't done something in a while, but you used to be pretty good at it and when you do it again, it's exhilarating?"

Severus made a noise of assent and Harry went on. "I hated what I had to do today. Hated that I had to defend myself and others. Pretty pathetic, huh? The Boy-who-lived trying to avoid a fight." He felt sick inside. "It's going to get worse, isn't it?"

Severus nodded, remarking quietly, "I think so, Harry. This makes the fourth attack in as many months. I think Lucius is finally making his move."

"I was afraid of that."

Severus loosened his arms and sat back to see Harry. Holding his gaze, he said softly, "And for the record, hating to fight is never a bad thing. It just makes us all the more determined to find other ways to solve the problems. But I am also thinking that violence cannot be avoided in this."

"So it's war? Again?"

"I'm afraid so," Severus replied sadly.

Harry nodded. "All the more reason then to step up our research. If it's a fight he wants, then we must be prepared to minimise the damage."

There was a light in Severus' eyes Harry had not seen for years and had hoped to never see again; determination tempered with a keen resolve. He looked into the fire, saying, "Tomorrow we must discuss this with McGonagall and Arthur. We need a stronger, bolder strategy." He then turned his eyes to Harry and whispered, "But for now, we just need each other."

Harry had no argument to this and gratefully yielded to Severus' lips on his own.

Later, much later, their talk and the fine Remy but a memory, they lay entwined in their downy bed, recently sated and relaxed from a protracted late dessert. Harry pulled a little way from Severus and asked with an impish smile, "Do you recollect the name of that one?"

Severus was still a little distracted by the lingering sensations singing through his body, but he gamely answered, "Hmmm? I don't recall off-hand, I just remember it's one of our favorites and had something to do with whales and reciprocity. Hold on." He broke away and, stretching, pulled out The Book from the drawer of the bedside table. Sitting up, the sheet pooled enticingly at his waist, his bare backside exposed to Harry's appreciative view, he thumbed through the well-worn, dog-eared pages, the binding cracked and repaired in places; some added pages were held in by Spell-o-tape. As he continued to look, the act itself another sporadic ritual between them usually reserved for those times when one or the other, or in this case both, were feeling a bit insecure. He supposed they could have just fixed the darn thing, but neither had the inclination; it was somehow fitting The Book aged in much the same manner as they did and he couldn't help chuckling at his optimistic thought of what it would look like in another century.

"Let me see--Ah, yes, here--it's the Jonah-and-the-Whale aka The Swallow-You-Whole. He held the book so they both could read the faded entry and laughed at the comments to the side. Severus had written: "Hmmm. Need to be able to talk the next day--maybe a little less stroking? More swallowing? Combine with tonguing from above?" To which Harry had replied: "Oh Merlin, you're making me hard, Sev!"

Sitting up next to him, Harry kissed his shoulder, saying, "I'd say we got that one spot on, Sev. Took years of practice, especially in light of the Quid Pro Quid variation, but we've finally mastered it." They both laughed. The Book had been a running joke between them for years--along with squids.

Severus also knew what was coming next as Harry yawned, settling back down and saying, "It was a bit of all right, though."

Severus replaced The Book back in the table's drawer and laying back down next to his husband, he pulled Harry snugly in his arms, content with life. "Indeed yes, my love. It's always a bit of all right."


"The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success."

IV-16. Sun Tzu in "The Art of War"

Hiding Under the Ninth Earth Continued in Chapter Two, found in the Epilogue of Book 03 : Epithalamium.

A/N: Thank you for your kind attention. A full timeline, references, character lists, and partial author notes are available at my site--add a /finis.html to the end--full versions on my site are coming soon.

I Got Tired of Waiting :: 4 May 2004